VALDOSTA, Ga. – The Lake Oconee Academy girls basketball team left no doubt as to why it should be a state finalist.
The Titans (28-2) shut down the Mt. Zion Eagles (25-6) 34-14 in the Class A Division II semifinals Saturday afternoon.
“We’ve played our best defense of the season through the whole tournament and today was our best defensive effort of the season,” Lake Oconee Academy coach Dodd Rentz said. “That’s a really good basketball team. They’ve got really good shooters and we just smothered them and we really moved fast in our zone. We contested everything and then, what’s more important for us because of our lack of size is we finished those possessions off rebounding the basketball. We needed all of that because we were not very good offensively. We’ve been preaching defense and rebounding and it was our best game of the season defensively for sure."
Senior shooting guard Jada Williams poured in a game-high 18 points to lead the Titans to victory. Williams scored 12 of her 18 points in the first half, taking advantage of the Eagles off the dribble and scoring in transition.
Williams opened the fourth quarter with six straight points as she hit a driving bank shot then connected on a short jumper in the lane and got inside easily for a layup to push the lead to 30-7 with 4:59 left in the game.
“Well, she’s special,” Rentz said of Williams. “She’s explosive and she’s just a special, special player. I think she’d probably tell you she left about 10 points on the table today, too. To score 18 in that game when we only had 34, it was big – especially in that first half when Georgia (Bosart) was in foul trouble. She’s our leader from the point guard position and with her in foul trouble, Jada really just kind of took the game over and extended it a little bit. She was really good. She’s a special, special player."
The Titans put the finishing touches on the win with a Kensi Stevens 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 34-8 with 2:47 to play.
Despite being hampered by foul trouble, Bosart finished with nine points – four in the second half. Bosart and Williams combined for all nine of the Titans’ first-quarter points as the Eagles only managed two points in the period.
Anchored by a dominant defensive effort, the Titans led wire-to-wire as they held the Eagles to just three points in the first half and held them scoreless into the second half until a jump shot by Eagles forward Nesaiah Farley ended the drought with 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
Despite a sluggish third quarter for both teams, the Titans’ lead remained intact as they went into the fourth leading 24-5.
For the Titans, the 34 points they scored Saturday was their second-lowest scoring output all season. The key to overcoming their offensive malaise was using their stingy defensive efforts to force turnovers and get out in transition. Though that strategy paid off, Rentz felt his team left points on the floor in the process.
“I don’t think we got enough (transition baskets),” Rentz said. "I don’t think we did enough in the transition game, but our press was good. We created a lot of turnovers and we had a lot of easy opportunities and of course we missed some of them. I give a lot of credit to Mt. Zion. That’s a really good half court man-to-man basketball team on defense. They were in position, they helped, they were sound and they had our girls frustrated for sure. We’re going to have to play a better game offensively without a doubt Wednesday and we’ve just got to keep playing really good defense and keep rebounding."
With the win, the Titans moved their winning streak to 11 games and will face the Clinch County Panthers (26-4) in Wednesday’s state championship game. Clinch defeated Towns County 56-41 on Saturday to advance to the title game.
“We’re very, very excited for these girls,” Rentz said. “There was a lot of pressure on them after winning it last year and all they’ve done is respond. We’re 28-2 and they have a lot of pressure. You walk around our campus and around the lake area and it’s all, ‘You’ve got it. You’ve got it. It’s a cake walk.’ And it’s not a cake walk. We’ve played really good basketball teams and we haven’t played our best but we’ve really played defense and rebounded the ball. They’ve got a chance to do something…they’ve already done something that’s extraordinarily special and now they’ve got a chance to do even more, so we’re really, really excited about it and excited for these kids. They’ve worked hard for it."
Tipoff for the LOA girls championship game against Clinch is 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Macon Centreplex.
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