Like she knew it was time, Deztanie Hill picked the perfect moment to play her best game.
The junior, who Nash Central coach Terri Cash hoped would have a big year, spent most of the season as a defensive stopper – being pulled from the game for offensive situations.
With a chance to secure a spot in the state playoffs Tuesday, Hill scored a career-high 14 points, including the game-winning jumper with 10 seconds to play as Nash Central held off a second-half rush from Wilson Hunt to win, 40-38, at Nash Central High School.
“That was big,” Cash said. “It’s big to have somebody that can attack the basket and create and hit an occasional jump shot.”
Hill picked the perfect occasion as Nash Central (12-6, 5-4 Big East) moved into second place in the conference.
“It (has) always been our goal to go further than we did last year,” Hill said.
After Wilson Hunt (12-8, 4-5) scored on Destinee Hinnant’s putback with 18 seconds to play, guard Ni’Ya Styles, who sat out four minutes in the fourth quarter in foul trouble, dribbled down the left sideline. Drawing a defender in the paint, Styles saw Hill open on the left wing.
“I just saw her in the corner,” Styles said. “I threw her the ball and she made it. I trust my teammate. ... I always have confidence in my teammates.”
Styles picked up her fourth foul with six minutes to play and joined Jalynn Westry, who also had four fouls, on the bench.
Senior Timyra Staton, who started and played two minutes in her final game after suffering a torn ACL earlier this season, watched with her knee propped up on a chair.
Without its top three scorers, Nash Central had to weather the storm – and the press – from Wilson Hunt.
“We just knew that everyone on the floor had to step up and fill-in that space,” Hill said.
Nash Central, which started out the conference season 0-3, has won five of the past six without Staton.
“Our team has really stepped up on offense and defense with her out,” Cash said. “That’s what we needed the whole time. We needed to step up, and we did.”
After Wilson Hunt missed a contested lay-up with eight seconds to play, Nash Central had secured its spot in the playoffs. Only later, once Rocky Mount High was upset by Southern Nash, did the Bulldogs find out they were back in a fight for second.
“Every year you want to make it to the playoffs,” Cash said. “Losing Timyra put a big question mark on that. I feel like our team has really stepped up.
“We’ve had a lot of different people step up every game.”
Wilson Hunt 46, Nash Central 40
From the start, Nash Central was patient, ran its offense and waited for the best chance to score against the Big East leading Warriors.
Patience isn’t always bad, but too much of anything is never good.
Nash Central scored just three points in the first quarter, and although the Bulldogs outscored Wilson Hunt in the final three quarters, they could never make up the difference.
“It’s hard to argue being patient,” Nash Central coach Renny Taylor said. “That’s what they were, but it was like they were scared to shoot the ball. ... Outside that first quarter, we beat them.”
Nash Central (10-8, 4-5) allowed just one field goal before it scored with 3:36 to play in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs proceeded to allow 12 more points before knocking down two free throws to start the second.
Nathaniel Pittman scored all of his team-high 11 points in the second half for Nash Central, which trailed by as many as 14 points before closing within three in the final minutes.
There was just no one to finish the job, a consistent problem for Nash Central, which lost its second straight Big East game.
“That’s a good thing to have different guys step to the forefront, but you can’t go from 20 to 8,” Taylor said. “You can go from 20 to 14 or 27 to 16, but you can’t go from 27 to 4. That’s what we’ve been having.”
Nash Central 40
Wilson Hunt 38
WH 3 9 13 13 – 38
NC 10 12 12 6 – 40
WH: Kayla Batts (9 points); Danisha White (9 points); Dani Harris (6 points); Kiana Ballard (6 points); Alexis Taylor (4 points); Alexus Williams (2 points); Destinee Hinnant (2 points)
NC: Deztanie Hill (14 points); Ni’Ya Styles (13 points); Brittani Strickland (5 points); MarQuesha Washington (4 points); Kiana Thomas (2 points); Jalynn Westry (2 points).
Wilson Hunt 46
Nash Central 40
WH 14 11 10 11 – 46
NC 3 11 13 13 – 40
WH: Dwanta Sutton (17 points); Keenon Tabron (8 points); Daniel Westbrook (6 points); Travon Davis (5 points); Justin Jefferson (5 points); Javis Neal-hill (4 points); Isaiah White (1 point).
NC: Nathaniel Pittman (11 points); Cole Smith (10 points); L.J. Porcher (9 points); Jaquan Wilkins (5 points); Tyler Hale (3 points); Wendell Hunter (2 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org