The host Lady Eagles (9-7, 2-3 Region 6A-A) trailed 6-4 after the opening quarter before pulling ahead for a slim, 16-12 halftime advantage, but MZ coach Bill Bailey wasn’t all that thrilled with the first-half execution heading into the locker room.
Fortunately, Mt. Zion came out for the final 16 minutes with a much more aggressive offensive approach and then shut down Excel (4-12, 0-5) on the other end of the court for the 22-point margin.
“We did a lot of standing around in the first half. But a real strong third quarter, I thought. We played lots better defense and quit giving them the easy rebound down there,” Bailey said. “We got some good minutes out of our bench, too. That was big for us. We’ve got another one [Saturday] against Trion. That gives us two sub-region wins. And if we get another one [Saturday] night, we can even it up at 3-3.”
MZ guard Toni Hammond got the hot hand in the third quarter, knocking down three of her four 3-pointers for the game, as the sophomore guard finished with a game-high 14 points, 11 of which came in the second half.
Bailey said when Hammond gets her outside game going, it really opens everything else up for his squad, which committed just six turnovers on the night.
“The last two ball games, Toni Hammond has started hitting some 3s, and that’s real big for our offense, too. We got girls that can score. We’ve just got to get all five of them being a threat to score and produce,” Bailey said.
Along with Hammond reaching double figures for Mt. Zion, point guard Jordan Crews added 10 points and Jennifer Bagby and Quavadis Kirk each posted six points. Bagby pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds and Kirk added 9 boards.
Sophomore guard Andrea Taylor led Excel Christian with 13 points, while senior center Emily Willingham added six points with 12 rebounds.
Excel Christian boys 63, Mt. Zion 40: The host Eagles (8-8, 1-4) hung tight with the fourth-ranked team in the latest Class A private school power rankings for the better part of the first half, but Excel Christian (17-1, 6-0) used a 13-2 run in the second quarter to take a 31-18 lead at the break and then pulled away at the start of the second half behind another strong push.
Mt. Zion coach Joey Marinelli said his ball club has got to learn to play four quarters of basketball, something he’s preached in recent weeks.
“They outscored us 23-8 in the second quarter. They had a lot of momentum going in at halftime and we just weren’t hitting our shots,” Marinelli said. “But we’ve got to be able to play 32 minutes of basketball to win games in this region.”
Mt. Zion led 10-8 after the opening quarter, but Excel’s full-court pressure, speed and athleticism ultimately took its toll, as the 23-8 second quarter and an 18-11 edge in the third gave it a 20-point lead going into the final eight minutes.
Excel lived at the free-throw line in the second half, as well, going 12-of-21 from the charity stripe during that time.
Excel Christian guard Rudy Winters led all scorers with 19 points and six rebounds, while Jalen McKeller added 12 points and 10 rebounds and Elijah Robinson also reached double figures with 11 points and six boards.
Mt. Zion was paced by T.K. Tuggle with eight points, while Corey Loftin posted seven points with five rebounds, Nathan Bernhardt had six points with seven rebounds and Matt Turner finished with six points and five boards.
MZ has a quick turnaround and a long road trip today to Trion (8-5, 3-2) for a 7:30 p.m. sub-region showdown. The Bulldogs dropped a 72-48 affair to Excel Christian on Tuesday.
“We head up to Trion, and they’re always tough. They’re going to be fundamentally-sound, they’re going to get after the boards and get after you on defense. Hopefully, we’re going to look better [Saturday] night than we did [Friday] and play a full basketball game,” Marinelli said.