(Brent Shipman, Staff)
After matching Neelyville almost shot-for-shot in the first half on Friday, the Lady Eagles' offense suddenly turned cold in a rough third quarter that led to a 76-57 loss.
"We played really well for a half and then just forgot what we did the first half," NMCC head coach David Crockett said. "Our intensity level dropped down and Neelyville's intensity level went up.
"We just didn't handle the pressure or play team basketball in the second half."
The Lady Eagles (7-2) came out of the break trailing by three following a buzzer beater by the Lady Tigers' Emily Eaker that gave her team a 35-32 edge going into halftime.
A quick 9-4 rally by NMCC early in the third gave the Lady Eagles their last lead of the night, at 41-39, when Aqwaness Johnson put in a bucket with 5:38 left in the frame.
Unfortunately for NMCC, it was all downhill from there as seven straight points by Neelyville put the Lady Tigers back in control.
In a span of just over four minutes, Neelyville put together a dominant 16-2 run that put them ahead 55-43 with a minute left in the third.
At the end of the third, the Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Eagles 26-12 and led 61-45.
A quick basket by Ashley Law, followed by a 3-pointer from Brooke Sheppard in the final 30 seconds left the Lady Tigers with a 16-point lead going into the fourth.
"We talked about attacking the rim and taking it to their big girls down low," Neelyville head coach Becky Hale said of her team's strong third quarter. "We just happened to play our guts out. That's a good team out there.
"I'm glad we were able to finally pull it out."
NMCC made one last push to start the fourth and with a couple key baskets from Benesha Childress, the Lady Eagles were able to close the gap to 10, at 63-53, three minutes into the frame.
The Lady Eagles were still within 10 with four minutes to play when Neelyville scored six points in just over a minute to pull away 71-55 with 2:30 to play.
By coming down with the rebound on several missed NMCC shots in the final two minutes the Lady Tigers closed out the win.
"They got down on each other and themselves and we couldn't make shots," Crockett said of his team. "We had some easy shots we didn't make and if they made them we get a little momentum.
"But when you're missing easy shots and then Neelyville comes down and makes almost everything (things go downhill)."
Leading the Lady Eagles effort despite battling foul trouble most of the night was Childress. She had 16 points although she sat out the entire second quarter, scoring eight in the first frame alone.
Karen McGloson was second on the squad with 11 points, all of which came in the first two quarters. Both girls finished with four fouls after both picked up a pair early in the first frame.
"It does change you game plan a little bit," Crockett said of his leadings corers getting in foul trouble. "But we're still team first and not about one person. When we get back to that we'll be alright.
"That's what we did last year and we have to get back to that point this year."
Neelyville was led by a 31-point effort from Sheppard. Sheppard put up 10 puts during the Lady Tiger's third quarter push and had the team's only two 3-pointers on the night.
Second on the team was Christina Russom with 16 points, scoring 11 of those in the third.
Emily Eaker's 14 points made her the third Lady Tiger to post double-digit scoring totals.
With the win Nellyville gets the daunting task of taking on defending tournament champions Dexter on Saturday. Through he semifinals the Lady Bearcats have outscored their opponents 259-53.
NMCC will play Clearwater for third place, also on Saturday.
NEELYVILLE (76) -- Darby French 1, Emily Eaker 14, Harley Prosise 1, Chelsea Petty 2, Kayla Maupin 7, Ashley Law 2, Brooke Sheppard 31, Christina Russom 16, Riley Washburn 2. FG 26, FT 22-33, F 19. (3-pointers: Sheppard 2. Fouled out: none.)
NMCC (57) -- Shanterra Waters 2, Dallas Campbell 2, Amirah Ruff 4, Whitney Williams 6, Aqwaness Johnson 8, Benesha Childress 16, Karen McGloson 11, Rashaunda Summers 8. FG 25, FT 7-17, F 25. (3-pointers: none. Fouled out: none.)