2021 Bennie Pollock Memorial

Tipoff report: Overhills boys, Western and Triton girls star in Day 1

By DONNELL COLEY
Sports editor
Posted 11/23/21

Day 1 of the former Harnett County Tipoff saw an overtime thriller, an explosive offensive performance and more.

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2021 Bennie Pollock Memorial

Tipoff report: Overhills boys, Western and Triton girls star in Day 1

Posted

ANGIER — Harnett County's most storied high school basketball event took a new name this year following a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Bennie Pollock Memorial Tournament had all the thrills and excitement of the former Harnett County Tipoff as locals crammed inside Harnett Central's gym Monday for a hoops tripleheader. 

Here's the first-round recap that saw girls teams from Western Harnett and Triton advance, while Overhills' boys kept its tournament-record streak alive. 

Western girls edge past Central in OT thriller

Jeanne Cordova was one of the handful of ballers who took last season off due to concerns associated with the worldwide pandemic. 

The rejuvenated junior made good on her return to the court Monday, hitting the day's biggest shot– a game-tying 3-pointer as time expired in the fourth quarter – ultimately leading to Western Harnett's 49-44 win over Harnett Central. 

Western's first victory over Central since 2010 secures a spot in Wednesday's championship game. 

"It was crazy– it was different," Cordova said of the buzzer-beater that capped a 7-2 rally by the visitors over the final three minutes.

Western coach Matthew Smith welcomed the veteran back this season and is encouraged by her confidence to step up when the group needed it. 

"She really can shoot the ball. The problem is, she doesn't believe she can shoot the ball," he said.

"Now, she's seen a big one go in and I'm proud of her." 

The Lady Eagles (1-0) raced out to an early lead with senior guard Makenyia Mackey accounting for the game's first seven points. A Mackey transition layup saw the lead grow to its largest of the opening period, 11-3, with just under three minutes left. 

Central (0-1) closed the gap behind the quickness of Shay Ward, who finished with a game-high 19 points. Ward and the Lady Trojans took control in the second, eventually holding a 21-20 lead at halftime. 

Holding a three-point advantage heading into the fourth, Ward got the lead as high as five on a short putback. 

But it was Western's Shay McCants (team-high 17 points) who chopped away at the deficit with timely buckets, giving way to Cordova's heroics.

In the extra session, McCants helped her squad take a 42-41 lead with two minutes left, then tied it at 44 with just under a minute to go.

Her pair of free throws moments later made it 46-44, giving the Lady Eagles a lead they wouldn't relinquish.  

Young backcourt powers Lady Hawks to final

 

The other half of Wednesday's championship game on the girls' side will feature Triton, who benefitted from a dominating backcourt performance to help outlast Overhills 42-38 on Monday. 

Freshman guard JaNiah Smith (19) and sophomore returner A'Shari Watlington (11) combined for 30 points, coming up clutch in key spots throughout. 

Triton (1-0) coach Richard Rozier knew the talent level of his young duo when taking the job this summer, but was still in a state of amazement following his first victory as the Lady Hawks headman. 

"They played lights out tonight, our two guards. And that was amazing," Rozier said.  

"That just shows me the lights aren't too big ... it blew my mind, as somebody who has played in this (tournament)."

Triton's first-quarter lead grew as high as 18-2 on a Watlington triple just before the close of the period. 

Smith knocked home a trey early in the second to extend the margin to 22-8 when Overhills powered a comeback attempt. 

Lady Jags (0-1) freshman guard Morgan Williams (12) and sophomore center Eva McRae (10) combined for 22 points, making plays in the second and third to keep things within reach. Williams' free throw late in the second cut it to 24-17 and McRae's bankshot with 3:16 left in the third got Overhills to within four, 28-24. 

The two teams traded blows for much of the second half as Shetarra Paige's triple with six minutes to go cut the Lady Jags' deficit to 34-31.

But it was Smith, Watlington and company who made sound decisions and converted free throws to eke out the win. 

The girls' title game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Central on Wednesday. 

Overhills boys make eighth straight title trip

The boys' championship game will have a familiar team taking part, as Overhills made quick work of Triton in the form of a 99-65 victory on Monday. 

First-year Overhills (1-0) coach Michael Stephens knew of the program's recent success in the season-opening tourney and says that was cause for some understandable pregame apprehension.

"I had a case of the nerves before we ever started, and it didn't help that the first game went into overtime," Stephens said. 

"It really puts you at ease when you go out there and you start off strong. ... I'm glad I got a win. I've been waiting a long time for this." 

Jags wing Ayden Gittens scored a game-high 23 points, helping the early advantage get as high as 20-6 in the first period.

Transfer guard Jamori McDougald added 15 points, Yabdiel Cruz and Jamar James put in 10 apiece as the Jags' speed and athleticism overpowered a gritty Hawks bunch. 

The mismatch was on full display in the opening stages of the second when McDougald lobbed a perfect pass of the glass for Damien Robinson, reached up with two hands and threw it down to ignite the packed crowd. 

Overhills' lead ballooned to 71-44 heading into the fourth, where mostly reserves got a chance to get some early-season work. 

Triton (0-1) guards Jalen Evans and Romello Pegues each netted 14 points to lead the team. 

The Jags await the winner of Tuesday's last opening-round matchup between Harnett Central and Western Harnett. 

Donnell Coley can be reached at dcoley@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2040. 

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