The scoreboard may have read McKinley versus East St. John, but by the fourth quarter, Monday’s Class 5A bidistrict playoff game turned into the Lady Panthers’ Brianna Brown against the Lady Cats’ Darae Taylor.
Both players scored double digits in the final quarter in an effort to push their team further into the playoffs, but Brown’s two free throws with 4.1 seconds left lifted No. 13 McKinley to a 60-58 win over No. 20 East St. John to advance to the regional round of the girls basketball playoffs.
Taylor scored 10 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter while Brown dropped 18 of her 26 points in the quarter.
“They’re two great players, and they played,” East St. John coach Jackson Manuel said. “It was a war between the two of them.”
The Lady Cats (21-9) led by as many as five with just more than a minute left in the game. With both teams in the bonus, the Lady Panthers (22-5) went to their full-court press and forced turnover after turnover in the final minute.
McKinley tied the game at 58 with under 10 seconds left and immediately forced a turnover to inbound the from the sideline with 6.8 seconds remaining.
The Lady Panthers threw the ball in to Brown midcourt, and the senior drove to the basket and drew a shooting foul to go to the line for two shots with 4.1 ticks on the clock. Brown sunk both shots to improve the Lady Panthers to 22-5 on the season and move them into the regional round of the playoffs against No. 4 West Monroe, which beat No. 29 Captain Shreve 46-33 Monday night.
“We knew it was going to be a tough, hard fought game,” McKinley coach Cory Grant said. “East St. John came out, they weren’t scared and the kids went at it. I told Brianna Brown, ‘Don’t let us lose.’ She’s probably one of the best players in the state and she just didn’t let us lose.”
Brown also racked up five rebounds and three steals. Angela Udofa followed with 15 points and six rebounds.
The two teams went back and forth the majority of the first half, with McKinley taking a one-point lead after the first quarter and East St. John leading by two at the half.
Both sides came out firing in the second half, and the intensity picked up entering the fourth quarter with the Lady Cats holding a one-point advantage. McKinley went into the bonus with 6:40 left in the game and drained nine free throws down the stretch to eventually secure the win.
“I think the officiating was shoddy at times,” Manuel said after the game. “We can slow down anybody, and we proved it. We forced them into quite a few turnovers, which is our game. That’s what we do. We make people commit turnovers and then we score from them.”
McKinley faced a similar challenge, sending East St. John into the bonus with 1:31 left in the fourth quarter. The Panthers’ stingy full-court defense did the trick though, forcing the Lady Cats into 21 turnovers on the night, which proved paramount in McKinley’s comeback.
“We can win a lot of ways,” Grant said. “Our half-court offense was off. We knew we could press and win. We were in foul trouble, and I could never get the lineup on the court that I wanted, and that dictated the momentum for us. We just couldn’t get the kids on the court.”
Bri’Shane Haynes and Jermani Thompson both reached double-digits for East St. John, scoring 11 and 10, respectively.