HAMMOND —Two minutes into Thursday’s Class 1A state semifinal North Central’s chances of repeating as state champions took a turn for the worse.
Junior guard Quaniqua Joseph, who was sprawled out on the court after a collision, required assistance in leaving the court and with the exception of a brief return midway in the second quarter, did not play again.
The Lady Canes were hard-pressed to keep up with Merryville and its prolific scorer Andrea Cournoyer.
Merryville gave North Central a dose of its own full-court pressure medicine, forcing the Lady Canes into 23 turnovers and 33 percent shooting en route to a 65-44 victory Thursday at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center.
Merryville (31-0) meets Arcadia (28-1) in Saturday’s 2 p.m. state championship game in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 Tournament.
“I thought Merryville did a good job,” North Central coach Vanessa Taylor said. “When we lost Quaniqua, she’s our best defender and planned on putting her on No. 10 (Cournoyer). When she went down, the game plan kind of changed.”
Cournoyer, who carried a hefty 31-point scoring average into the contest, didn’t disappoint. The sophomore guard scored 19 of her game-high 34 points during a first half in which Merryville built a 32-17 halftime lead.
Joseph fell to the court writhing in pain for several minutes and had to be helped off the floor with an undisclosed left knee injury and North Central trailing 8-4. The Lady Canes (27-3) never recovered once Joseph reappeared on her team’s bench with a bag of ice on her knee.
Joseph tried to play but was clearly in pain, limping from one end of the court to the other. She attempted one shot — a 3-pointer — and immediately went down in pain again after trying to retrieve her miss.
Jada Duncantell, who finished with 22 points, completed a three-point play with 2:05 left in the third quarter that helped the Lady Canes get as close as 45-32.
Merryville went on to lead by as many as 25 points (65-40) in the final two minutes after Cournoyer made four straight free throws.
“I knew the others could do it, but tonight showed they depended so much on her,” Taylor said of her team. “They didn’t step it up. Jada and Latrachuai Tyler were the two out there giving it 150 percent. The others didn’t know what to do.”