MURFREESBORO — It took some time, but Wayne County showed its undefeated record is legit.
Seizing control of the game in the middle of the third quarter, the Lady Wildcats turned in a dominant second-half performance and defeated Hampton 61-39 in the semifinals of the TSSAA Class 1A girls state basketball tournament Friday at the Murphy Center.
It was a season-ending loss for the Lady Bulldogs, who finished 31-3.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this bunch even if they had won the state tournament,” Hampton head coach Brandon Carpenter said. “I’m proud of how hard they worked to get here. The work they put in to get this turned around to the level they played at this year is a real testament to what kind of kids they are.
“The kids did a good job of handling anything Wayne County threw at us. But we needed to play one of our better basketball games, and we didn’t today.”
Wayne County improved to 36-0 with its 56th win in the last 57 games. The championship game Saturday at 5 p.m. (EST) will be a rematch of last year’s finals. McKenzie defeated Wayne County 46-42 in that contest.
The Rebels earned a chance at getting back-to-back titles by humbling Van Buren County by a score of 84-59 in Friday’s other semifinal.
Carpenter said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Wayne County turn the tables this year.
“They have a good basketball team,” he said. “They have a good chance of winning the state tournament.”
THE DECIDING STRETCH
Leading by four points at 30-26 in the third quarter, Wayne County went on a 10-0 run to create a 14-point gap.
“I thought early on we played pretty well,” Carpenter said. “There in the third quarter, they got a few offensive rebounds and we missed a few assignments. They got an and-one and hit a 3-pointer and within a few possessions it went from four points to 14.”
Hampton got 3-pointers from Taylor Berry and Macy Henry to close within eight points at 40-32, but wasn’t able to get any closer.
“Things just didn’t go our way,” Carpenter said.
Wayne County opened the fourth quarter with a 9-1 run and never looked back. The Lady Wildcats outscored Hampton by a count of 19-5 in the fourth quarter.
Hampton stood up strong against the West Tennessee power, leading for portions of the first half and trailing by only four, 26-22, at the break.
But eventually it was the Lady Wildcats’ size that proved too much for Hampton to handle. Wayne County outrebounded the Lady Bulldogs by a commanding margin of 33-16. Hampton just couldn’t keep Wayne County out of the lane. The Lady Wildcats outscored Hampton 36-12 in the paint, and by an 18-1 margin on second-chance points.
“We didn’t do our best job of blocking out, and they are big,” Carpenter said.
Also, the Lady Bulldogs couldn’t create easy baskets with their defense. Entering the state tournament, Hampton was averaging 21 steals per game but totaled only six against Wayne County.
But one area where Hampton proved to be very strong was taking care of the basketball. The Lady Bulldogs committed only 10 turnovers, and Wayne County came out of its full-court press and half-court traps in the second quarter.
LEADING THE WAY
As expected, Hampton had trouble with Wayne County’s Miss Basketball finalist Blair Baugus. She cut loose for 25 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and two assists. Teammate Lauren Bryant provided support with 14 points.
For Hampton, Henry scored 12 points to lead the way. Berry added 11 points. Linsey Jenkins chipped in with six points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
Hampton struggled with its shooting, making 14 of 44 attempts for 32 percent. The Lady Bulldogs were 5 of 20 from behind the arc for 25 percent.
“Their length bothers you some,” Carpenter said. “I also think we played so hard on defense we got a little tired and maybe didn’t have our legs under us. But that doesn’t deny credit to Wayne County. They have a good basketball team and outplayed us today.”