A career night from Nova guard Rishonti Cowart pushed the Class 7A No. 2 Titans past Class 5A No. 1 Coconut Creek 78-70 on Friday and into the BCAA Big 8 championship final.
Cowart scored a career-high 21 points to help Nova stave off the Cougars in the Big 8 semifinals at South Plantation.
“Rishonti had a breakout [Friday night],’’ Titans coach Jason Hively said. “She has been playing great the last month and a half for us. And she was really the difference [Friday night]. Both defensively and offensively. She seemed to be the mismatch on the offensive end, knocking down her jump shots and getting to the free-throw line.”
Nova, which got 17 points each from Kiani Lurry and Deja Roberts and 12 points from Bernadette Devaney, advanced to its eighth consecutive Big 8 final on Saturday, when the Titans will vie for their second title.
Reigning Big 8 champion Dillard (18-5) held up its end of this highly anticipated seventh Finals meeting in eight seasons against Nova by racing out to a 39-19 halftime lead over Cypress Bay (21-2) and defeating the Lightning 73-47 in the late semifinal.
Dillard 5-11 star forward, Briana Green, continued her late-season hot streak with a game-high 26 points, 11 rebounds and six steals. Green scored 11 points in the first half to set up the Dillard-Nova showdown.
Trellanie English-Lurry added 11 points for the Titans (20-3).
Creek got 14 points from Destiny Frazier and 12 from Jacaira Allen.
Kareese Johnson had eight points and provided the defensive highlight of the night when she swatted Devaney’s shot against the backboard in the fourth quarter.
The backdrop of this semifinal between state contenders was the shootout that materialized between Cowart and her Coconut Creek counterpart wearing No. 22 — Delise Williams, who scored a game-high 23 points and added a team-high eight rebounds and five steals.
Nova took a 61-53 lead into the fourth quarter only to watch Williams, who is best known for her lock-down defense, score seven consecutive points to pull Creek (19-3) within 65-60 with six minutes left.
“A [Creek] team like this wasn’t going to quit fighting, and they wanted it a little bit more,’’ Hively said. “That is where they were going to make up the disadvantage. They closed up the second and third quarters real well, and we got uncharacteristic, rushing and turning the ball over when we didn’t need to.”
But this was Cowart’s night.
With Nova holding a tenuous 69-63 lead with 3:05 left, Cowart scored on a crucial three-point play to help seal the victory. After Kiani Lurry’s shot glanced off the backboard, Cowart corralled the rebound and banked in a shot while being fouled.
Cowart converted the free throw, and Deja Roberts hit a bank shot with 52 seconds left for a 76-68 lead.
Creek showed its resilience by first battling back from a 13-point, first-half deficit and then a 17-point hole in the second half to make it a nail-biter for the Titans.
Nova built a 49-36 lead with 5:22 left in the third quarter when Devaney unleashed one of her patented deep three-pointers. But Creek capitalized on a stretch of uncharacteristic sloppy ball-handling by Nova to answer with an 11-2 run. Sophomore guard Ambresha Long capped the spurt with a prayer of a hook shot at the third-quarter buzzer that drew the Cougars to within 61-53.
Tierra Wilks added 14 points for Dillard and Jamesha Paul had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Elizabeth Wright led the Lightning with 16 points. Scarlett Rocha finished with 10 points.