MANNING -- It took a while for the Manning High School varsity girls basketball team to shove it into overdrive in Monday's 3A state playoffs first-round game against Loris, but once it did there was no looking back.
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After a relatively tight first half in which the Lady Monarchs never led by double digits, MHS outscored the Lady Lions 34-9 in the second half to cruise to a 64-30 win at John F. Thames Arena.
With the win, the Lady Monarchs improved to 18-5 on the season and travel to Johnston on Thursday to take on Strom Thurmond, a 59-43 winner over Battery Creek in its Monday playoff opener.
"We kind of did some things that were uncharacteristic of ourselves and put us into bad situations," MHS head coach Darren Mazyck said of the first half. "Myisha Smiling picked up two quick fouls. She was hustling and going after it and we thought the calls could have gone either way, just like on loose ball or whatever, but they were changed to fouls. When she went out, that (hampered) what we were trying to do offensively."
The game was back and forth early, with lead changes on each of the first five scores, followed by the only tie of the game at 6-6. The Lady Monarchs would take a 12-9 lead into the second quarter and push the lead to seven after baskets from Star Logan and Measha Jones to open the second. Loris trailed 23-20 after a low-post bucket from Tajada Teaste before MHS closed the half on a 7-1 run to take a 30-21 advantage to the locker room, representing its largest lead of the half.
Ari'Yana Hayes put in two to open the second-half scoring and pull the Lady Lions within seven, but they would get no closer the rest of the way. The Lady Monarchs would score the next 10 points and pushed the lead to 22, 48-26, heading into the final eight minutes. Jones converted two 3-point plays while scoring 10 of her game-high 24 points, and Tajabreonca Dow connected for two of her three 3-point baskets in the quarter.
The fourth quarter was more of the same as MHS closed out its second 10-0 run of the half with La'tavius Wilson converting both shots of a 1-and-1 free throw situation for a 50-26 cushion. The final margin represented the Lady Monarchs' largest lead of the night.
"I think they got a little winded and they got into some foul trouble," Mazyck said of the Lady Lions, "and that caused the game to turn in a totally different direction."
Smiling dominated the final quarter and change, scoring eight of her nine points over the final 8:49. Jones seemed to be everywhere that the ball was, turning defense into offense all night, either by scoring herself or setting up a score for a teammate. Dow, who also closed with nine, provided a spark with each of her 3s while Smiling's strong finish helped her team to pull away late.
"Her effort on defense is outstanding," Mazyck said of Jones. "She is the one that makes the team go. With her playing great defense, everybody feeds off of her. Her creating turnovers leads to easy baskets for her. We call (Dow) our little specialist. She's been shooting the ball pretty well from outside, even though she struggled a little bit early tonight.
"We've built around them. We have the inside game and the outside game. With Smiling on the floor, she was a difference maker for us tonight. Even when she went down for a while, Star Logan came off the bench and filled that role pretty well for us during the first half, so we're really pleased with her."
Logan scored all six of her points in the opening 8:22, with four coming before Smiling picked up her second foul at the 1:20 mark of the opening quarter.
Corteria Chestnut and Le'Aundra Gore scored eight apiece to top the Lions, who closed the season at 12-12.
The Lady Monarchs' next opponent, Strom Thurmond, raced through Region V play unscathed at 8-0. The Lady Rebels stand at 13-14 overall but have won their last 10 games and seem to be battle tested after enduring a tough non-region schedule.
"They're a pretty good team, well coached," Mazyck said of the Lady Rebels. "We're on the road but this season we've played well on the road, so that's not going to be new to us. We're just hoping that we can bottle some of the energy we had tonight and maybe we can get off to a good, fast start when we get there, and then see what the game brings for us."
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