A 31-point state playoff victory might not appear to offer much room for criticism. Laney girls basketball coach Otis Smart found some.
Smart, who is no stranger to postseason basketball, told his girls exactly what he thought of their effort in an opening-round 71-40 win over Northeast Macon in the Class AA state tournament.
“I thought we played a little sluggish,” Smart said. “I didn’t see the energy tonight we normally play with.”
It’s not that the Lady Wildcats played poorly. They opened up a 9-2 lead early and extended it to 40-12 by halftime in what would eventually result in their 24th consecutive win.
But Laney also failed to directly attack the post, where the Lady Wildcats held a distinct size advantage, and instead settled for deep, contested 3-pointers. Laney misfired on its first six attempts from long range.
“I’m still satisfied with the victory, but there’s still things to work on,” Smart said. “That’s what I saw.”
Though the 3-pointers didn’t fall early, the Lady Wildcats were able to make up with it on the offensive glass. Junior Khadijah Cave used her 6-foot-3 frame to dominate the paint and finish with a game-high 19 points, many of which came on offensive putbacks that left the Northeast defense helpless.
“We didn’t have the size,” Northeast coach Cynthia Booker said. “That was obvious.”
Cave had 10 points in the first half and joined her fellow starters on the bench for the third quarter. That’s when the Laney reserves stumbled, allowing Northeast a chance at a comeback.
The Raiderettes outscored Laney 13-7 and ended the quarter on a 7-0 run.
“We lost that energy, and that’s what we’ve got to bring every night,” Smart said. “Northeast was playing good defense. We finally found a way to open it up from the outside.”
The Laney starters came back in for the fourth quarter and went 3 for 3 from the 3-point line and 10 for 16 from the field to kill Northeast’s rally.
The fast-paced Laney offense managed 79 shot attempts and went 8 for 24 on 3-pointers. Senior guard DeKoya Mack hit four 3s and finished with 15 points.
Fellow guard Katice Williams, hampered by illness, added 13 points.
Northeast senior Jasmine Curry led the visiting team with 10 points.