03/08/13 — A East Regional -- Warriors' journey ends with loss to West Craven

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A East Regional -- Warriors' journey ends with loss to West Craven

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 8, 2013 1:47 PM

FAYETTEVILLE -- Eastern Wayne freshman Naheria Hamilton sat forward with her arms crossed on the press room table and teammate Tianna Christopher fought back tears.

Disappointment shrouded the face of head coach Tyrone Wagner.

And their stunned silence spoke volumes.

West Craven raced to a double-digit lead after one period and handed Eastern Wayne a 64-48, season-ending defeat in semifinal-round play of the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A eastern regional girls' basketball tournament Thursday evening.

The Eagles (26-5 overall) oppose Chapel Hill in the regional championship on Saturday afternoon at the Crown Center. The Tigers, the state's No. 1-ranked team, escaped 67-65 in double overtime against Northern Guilford.

"I felt like most of the time they hustled more than us," Hamilton said. "They went hard in the paint more than we did. We didn't do as good as they did on defense and I thought we should have pressed them more."

The Warriors coerced the Eagles into 26 turnovers, including 16 by junior guard Jamie Cherry. But they inconsistently attacked West Craven's 2-3 zone defense, making silly interior passes on occasion instead of taking the shot.

Eastern Wayne averaged 0.45 points on 107 offensive possessions and shot 28 percent (20 of 71) for the game.

"We missed too many shots," Wagner said.

Cherry certainly didn't.

The two-time Coastal Conference player-of-the-year connected on her first four shots from the floor, including two from behind the 3-point arc. The 5-foot-6 dynamo delivered a double-double -- 29 points, 11 rebounds -- on the night.

West Craven led 19-8 after one period.

"Coming in in attack mode, just trying to be aggressive," Cherry said of her quick start. "I knew they play man-to-man full-court (pressure), but I was just trying to attack the basket and get my teammate open baskets at the same time ... take open shots when I'm open.

"I wanted to pretty much get the team going on offense and defense."

Consecutive baskets from Nyeesha Roundtree (11 rebounds) and Cherry, and two Cherry free throws gave West Craven its biggest lead, 27-12, late in the opening half.

Raju'ana Boyette's offensive putback capped a 7-2 run by the Warriors in the latter stages of the second period. Cherry's step-back 3-pointer gave the Eagles a 33-21 edge at halftime.

Eastern Wayne closed the gap to 37-30 on Elondia Grant's soft jumper off of Nijah Muhammad's assist in the third quarter. The Warriors fell behind by double digits again and climbed to within 57-47 midway through the fourth quarter.

"I think everybody got a little tired, complacent," Cherry said. "Coach had to take a timeout, everybody had to regroup and get themselves mentally focused. We went right back up by 15."

West Craven concluded the game with a 7-1 run.

Grant led the Warriors with 16 points. Muhammad and Christopher supplied 11 and 10 points, respectively. Hamilton swatted seven West Craven shots.

It was the final contest for Eastern Wayne seniors Muhammad, Boyette, Tasia Marsh, Tamiya Dortch and B'Renda Hutchins. Eastern Wayne is projected to return 10 players next season and build upon its most-successful run in program history.

"I'll take this feeling right now that I'm having from this loss ... it hurts," Christopher said. "I don't want to feel this again. This won't be the last time we'll be here."