The McEachern girls basketball team won’t have the same target on its back that it carried through the playoffs last season on its way to the Class AAAAA championship, but Indians coach Phyllis Arthur likes the way her young team is coming together heading into this year’s postseason.
“I feel OK, but if you had asked me that about a month or two ago, I didn’t feel very well,” Arthur said Friday after her team closed out the regular season with a 94-65 victory at home against Campbell. “The girls hadn’t jelled, they weren’t bonding, and the young girls were still playing like they were in middle school. Then we went to New York [in mid-January for two games at the Rose Classic Super Jam]. We got beat, but the girls jelled and they bonded. We’ve been playing some good ball lately. We’ve still got a few grooves and bumps that we’ve got to go over and go through, but they’re learning. The good thing about it is we can only go up.”
Last year, McEachern had one of the most dominant girls teams in state history. The Indians went 33-0 – the only undefeated team in the state – and won their five state tournament games by an average of 32.8 points. Their star-studded lineup featured four players who signed with Division I schools and two underclassmen who made early commitments.
Of those six, only one remains in the lineup. Dominique Wilson (Arkansas), Destinie Gibbs (Southern Cal), Pachis Roberts (Syracuse) and Kayla Montgomery (signed with Clemson, playing for Gulf Coast State College) have moved on to college ball. Mia Cooper, a senior this season who has committed to South Carolina, has missed the second half of the season with academic issues.
That leaves the leadership role to Cooper’s sister, Te’a, a sophomore who has committed to North Carolina. The younger Cooper is handling the job well, averaging 17.6 points, 5.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 4.4 steals.
Against Campbell on Friday, Cooper got the Indians off to a hot start with seven first-quarter points and finished the night with 19.
She got a lot of help from freshman Jada Lewis, the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.5 points. Lewis scored eight points in a decisive 11-0 run to open the third quarter in which the Indians turned a 39-29 halftime lead into a 50-29 advantage. She finished the night with five 3-pointers and a game-high 26 points.
“That’s a duo,” Arthur said. “I told them that I should have two more rings by the time Jada graduates, at least. But it’s up to them. I told them tonight that I can’t do anymore. It’s up to them, and they have to do it themselves. We’ve just got to get it done.”
McEachern is 15-10 overall after starting the season 0-5, but the Indians are 13-3 in 4-AAAAAA and will be the No. 3 seed in the region tournament next week at Marietta. All 10 of their losses have come against ranked or out-of-state teams.
Julie McKie scored 18 points, 16 of which came from the free-throw line, to lead Campbell (13-12, 8-8).
“The team from last year, they knew where everybody was going to play, where they were going to be, if they were going backdoor, if they were going to shoot,” Arthur said. “They basically knew each other’s moves. This group hasn’t played together long enough to know each other. I’ve had to teach all over again. Last year I could sit back and just coach. This year I’m having to teach from the beginning to the end of the game.”
Campbell (65): Lark 6, Spencer 6, Slaw 13, McKie 18, Cain 4, Hall 12, Joyner 2, Wilson 1, Nelson 3, Truesdale.
McEachern (94): Tisdale 4, Cooper 19, Martin 6, Patterson 11, Lewis 26, Salone 4, Lindsey 13, Allen 7, Daniels 2, Garcia 2, Ewing, Garnigan.