MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- A little heated encouragement from her coach motivated Jennifer East to accept responsibility and ensure a Hephzibah playoff victory.
The senior point guard scored nine points during a pivotal 25-8 run that secured a 66-47 victory for the Lady Rebels over Newnan on Saturday in the first round of the Georgia Class AAAA state playoffs at Baldwin County High School.
Lady Rebels coach Wendell Lofton bounces on the sidelines like an evangelical preacher and instills fire in his players with perfectly timed tirades. Hephzibah delivered a death blow to the Lady Cougars after Lofton lambasted his senior point guard for a mental breakdown.
Consecutive 3-pointers by East early in the fourth quarter effectively buried Newnan (11-13). With the verbal reprimand still spinning inside her head, East scored six of her 12 points to give Hephzibah a 54-37 advantage with 6:09 remaining in the game.
"It was a momentum swing for us," East said. "I knew this could be my last game and I promised my teammates we wouldn't lose."
The Lady Rebels held a 31-29 halftime lead and limited the Lady Cougars to three field goals and two free throws in the first 13 minutes of the second half. Lofton attributed the win to his team's defensive intensity and East's crucial shots.
East's daggers deflated Newnan and Lofton praised his senior leader for assuming control.
"That gave us the killing momentum," Lofton said. "When Jennifer plays good, we're good."
April Clyburn converted 11-of-13 free throws and made five of nine field goals to lead all scorers with 21 points. The senior center also grabbed eight rebounds for Hephzibah.
Although the Lady Rebels misfired on 23 of their 31 first-half shots, they led by making 12 of 14 free throws. For the game, Hephzibah converted 23 of 34 free throws while Newnan attempted just 11.
Hephzibah's aggressiveness produced a multitude of second-chance baskets as well as 23 Newnan turnovers. Clyburn said the Lady Rebels' offense feeds off its defense and they were determined to score inside or on the line.
"(Lofton) tells us to go to the hole," Clyburn said. "The worst thing that can happen is that you go to the free throw line."
Tamara Gilyard contributed 14 points for the Lady Rebels while Bronwyn Smyre added nine.
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.