JACKSON – Booneville delivered the knockout blow early.
Behind a dominant second quarter, the Lady Blue Devils defended their crown with a 58-33 win against Forest in the Class 3A state championship game at the Mississippi Coliseum on Saturday. It’s the program’s fourth title.
Booneville (30-3) raced to a 9-0 lead, but Forest (25-7) responded and got within 11-8 early in the second quarter. Those were the last points the Lady Bearcats scored in the first half, as the Lady Devils reeled off 19 unanswered points for a 30-8 halftime lead.
Booneville guard Ava Kate Smith said she could tell that Forest had been mentally taken out of the game by that point.
“They only had eight points at halftime, and you could tell it,” said Smith, who scored 19 points.
Ni’yah Cook, a sophomore and this year’s 3A Miss Basketball, led the Lady Devils with 20 points and 15 rebounds. The Blue Mountain transfer was a “monster” in the post, as coach Michael Smith put it.
“I love Booneville, and I’m so thankful I moved in,” Cook said.
She had 12 points by halftime and made regular trips to the free throw line. Cook’s 3-point play with 1:41 left in the first half gave Booneville a 28-8 lead, and then she closed the half with two free throws.
Forest was flummoxed by Booneville’s zone defense and settled for long jumpers, most of which missed. The Lady Bearcats shot 13 of 50 (26%) from the field, including 3 of 23 (13%) from 3-point range. They also committed 19 turnovers, off which Booneville scored 18 points.
The Lady Devils shot 15 of 34 (44.1%) from the field and made 25 of 34 free throws (73.5%).
“I think (Forest) got frustrated, and they got farther and farther back” with their shots, Michael Smith said. “I think what we were doing offensively was really frustrating them. We were getting good looks, and we were getting back door cuts, and as the game went on we got more confident.”
Booneville has been vulnerable to defensive pressure this season, including in a semifinal win over Morton. That wasn’t the case against Forest.
“We knew they were going to try to pressure us,” Michael Smith said. “We also thought that they could pressure us in two to three spots, but not five.”
Turning Point: Ava Kate Smith scored eight points during the pivotal second quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers to open up a 23-8 lead.
Point Maker: Cook was 3 of 9 from the floor and 14 of 16 from the free throw line.
Talking Point: “That’s the best we’ve played on both ends of the floor, and that’s when you’re supposed to play it.” – Michael Smith
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