CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Huntington needed a final-minute rally to beat South Charleston 45-41 Friday night in the Class AAA girls basketball state tournament semifinals.
“We got out of sorts there a little bit, but got back,” said Huntington coach Lonnie Lucas. “South Charleston knows how to play us and we know how to play them. It was a tough game. We knew it was going to be tough.”
The title-favorite and top-ranked Highlanders (24-3) trailed 41-37 with two minutes to go, but finished the final 1:51 of the game on an 8-0 run.
“We had three spurts where we played like we were supposed to play – and that was one of them,” Lucas said. “That little bit gave us the real momentum and we had the lead back.”
It was senior Jordyn Dawson putting Huntington back on top, 43-41, with a short, floating jumper along the baseline and just 55 seconds to go.
“I didn’t think I was going to make it,” Dawson said. “But I did.”
“That was a great, tough play,” Lucas added. “If you’ve watched us play, we do get on the floor quite often and Jordan can go to the floor, get up dribbling, keep dribbling and score the basket – that’s what she did there. It was a great move.”
Trailing 44-41, South Charleston (21-6) missed a pair of 3-point attempts on the other end that would have tied the game.
The Highlanders initially built a quick, 12-3 lead in the first quarter, but Dawson played just seven total minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
With Dawson out the entire second quarter, No. 4 South Charleston closed its deficit to 20-15 heading into the break.
“We were trying to attack and I don’t know how many shots we missed in the paint when Dawson was on the bench,” said South Charleston coach Gary Greene. “Part of our plan was to get to the basket and draw some fouls – our kids did what they were supposed to do.
“We would have liked to have poured in 10 or 15 more points (in that stretch) – and we tried,” he continued. “We just missed a lot of shots inside.”
South Charleston collected four straight points within a four-second span to end the third quarter as Rhea Smith scored a layup, and Aaliyah Dunham stole the in-bounds pass and scored at the buzzer, drawing the Black Eagles to within two points, 35-33.
Consecutive buckets from Lavendar Ward and Jayla Brown late in the fourth gave the Black Eagles a 41-37 lead with 2:04 to go.
But that’s when momentum completely shifted.
A jumper from Huntington’s Madison Slash tied the game at 41-41 with 1:10 remaining.
That made shot followed a critical five-second call on Dunham the previous possession.
“You can’t lose a much tougher one than that,” Greene said. “I’m going to say this – and you guys can say it’s sour grapes or whatever you want to say, because I don’t care. But I’m going to protect my kids.
“That was the worst officiating game I’ve ever seen on this level,” Greene continued. “But our kids played their hearts out and I’m so proud of these seniors. It’s a shame you have to go out like this. I don’t know how a five-second call can go out that quick.”
Dawson finished with 21 points to lead the Highlanders. Ward led South Charleston with 12 points, while Dunham was held to six points.
Huntington will face either Buckhannon-Upshur or Wheeling Park at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday for the Class AAA state championship.
“(Our kids) need to rest,” Lucas said. “It’s a long tournament and a hard tournament on a big floor. With the way we play, it takes a lot out of you.”