McDowell Lady Titans head coach Jennifer Kinninger looked nervous before her team’s game against the West Caldwell Warriors in the first round of the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference tournament Tuesday night.
The Lady Titans made sure their coach didn’t suffer long.
McDowell (17-8) got off to a hot start and built an insurmountable 30-15 halftime lead en route to an easy, 55-36 win at Titan Gym.
The second-seeded Lady Titans advance to the tournament semifinals this afternoon (Thursday) against third-seeded Hickory on the Red Tornadoes’ home court (5:30 start, or 30 minutes after the 4 p.m. game ends).
The championship is set for 6:30 Friday at Hickory.
McDowell put together one of its slickest offensive performances of the season, with multiple players making superb passes for open looks throughout the game. The Lady Titans shot 48 percent from the field and had 16 assists on their 19 field goals.
“I felt like we did some really good things, especially defensively, and I felt like our intensity was there,” said Kinninger, whose club held West Caldwell to 25-percent shooting. “We moved the ball really well and were looking inside, looking to penetrate and then kick out, and were looking for each other in transition.
“We’ve talked about how when you move the ball and change sides of the floor, good things can happen.”
That was certainly true Tuesday, especially when the ball ended up in Makenna Parkins’ hands. The junior forward made her first six shots and finished 10-for-12 from the field with 23 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Post Naliyah Boyce added eight points and pulled a game-high nine rebounds. No one else scored more than five for the Lady Titans, but Alana Stephenson dished out five assists, Dezi Williams four and Makaylah Chandler three, and nine different players scored.
Parkins scored four of her seven first-quarter points in the final 1:14 of the period to stretch an 8-7 lead to 12-7 by the end of the frame.
McDowell opened the second quarter with a 10-2 run, getting points from four different players. Williams made a pair of free throws after a steal at the 4:26 mark to make it 22-9, and West Caldwell (7-17) never got back in the game.
In the second half, the Lady Titans continued to shred the Warriors’ defense with their pinpoint passing and built a 43-24 lead by the end of the third quarter.
“When they’re (the opponent) using two post players to clog the lane up and keep our guards from getting to the basket, if we can separate them, we can do some of our offenses we have where they (Parkins and Boyce) get a lot of high-low looks,” said Kinninger.
Forward JaLeah Battle led West Caldwell with 16 points and eight rebounds, but made just 5 of 23 field goals. Eboni Johnson tossed in 13 for the Warriors.
The Lady Titans, who finished tied for second in the regular-season standings, have clinched a berth in the State 4A Playoffs for the 35th consecutive season, but Kinninger said the club is capable of making some noise in the conference tournament first.
“The girls have really been working hard and working together,” said the eighth-year head coach. “They’re just a fun bunch to be around, and they just want to be out here and play for each other. They have a chance to do something special.”
West Caldwell (36) Alyssa McMasters 1-5 0-0 2, Cambria Crisp 0-1 3-6 3, Eboni Johnson 6-13 1-3 13, JaLeah Battle 5-23 3-6 16, Kayla Mathes 0-2 0-0 0, Amity Eldreth 0-0 0-0 0, Heaven Ruff 1-3 0-0 2, Jennifer Barcenas 0-1 0-0, Treasure Zion 0-0 0-2 0-0, Stephanie Burch 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 13-51 7-17 36.
McDowell (55) Makaylah Chandler 0-4 4-8 4, Makenna Parkins 10-12 2-2 23, Naliyah Boyce 4-5 0-1 8, Candace Cooper 1-3 0-0 2, Dezi Williams 1-4 2-2 5, Zoe Miller 1-5 0-0 2, Alana Stephenson 0-3 4-6 4, Silese Carson 0-1 0-0 0, Daisy Rice 1-1 3-3 5, Tayla Wood 1-2 0-0 2, Madi Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 19-40 15-22 55.
West Caldwell 07 08 09 12 – 36
McDowell 12 18 13 12 – 55
Rebounds: WC (31) MHS (30) Rebound leaders: WC (Battle 8) MHS (Boyce 9) 3-point goals: WC (3-10) MHS (1-9) WC (Crisp, Johnson, Burch 0-1, Battle 3-7) MHS (Williams 1-3, Chandler, Cooper, Carson 0-1, Stephenson 0-3) MHS assist leaders: (Stephenson 5) MHS steals leaders: (Williams, Stephenson 2) MHS blocked shot leaders: (Boyce, Miller 1) Turnovers: WC (17) MHS (16)