Nova, the top team in Class 7A, has waged enough battles with archrival Dillard to know its BCAA Big 8 nemesis would stage a frenetic rally without fallen star Briana Green in the Big 8 championship game Saturday.
The Titans weathered the Panthers’ onslaught and held on for a 51-46 victory over the four-time defending Class 5A state champion Panthers at South Plantation.
“We knew Dillard would continue fighting no matter what,” said Titans forward Bernadette Devaney as Dillard trimmed the lead from 44-33 to 48-46. “Even after two injuries they would come back hard. We just had to stick with our game plan and protect the ball and penetrate and get easy buckets.”
Nova used the balanced scoring effort which could be the difference in their quest for an elusive state title this postseason.
Tournament MVP Trellanie English-Lurry scored a team-high 13 points, and Devaney had 11 points for the Titans (21-3). Deja Roberts and Rishonti Cowart, the hero of the Titans’ 78-70 semifinal victory over Class 5A No. 1 Coconut Creek, added nine points each.
The big-picture concern for Dillard (18-7) is the status of Green, the heart and soul of its team, for its run at a fifth consecutive Class 5A state title. Green scored 11 points before leaving the game for good after sustaining an apparent knee injury with Nova holding a 39-31 lead with 1:18 left in the third quarter.
Green went in for a layup and fell to the floor, screaming out in agony as she clutched her knee. A somber Dillard sideline looked on as Green remained on the floor for six minutes before being helped to the locker room by trainers.
Dillard Hall of Fame coach Marcia Pinder said her team showed great resolve in how it responded to Green’s injury.
“That is what we wanted to do was finish it,’’ Pinder said. “We worked hard and came back. It just didn’t work out for us. Nova was just hot shooting the ball tonight. I am extremely proud of my team.”
Jamesha Paul helped pick up the slack for Green with a game-high 18 points. Jade Wyatt added seven points.
After being overlooked with five consecutive runner-up finishes in the Big 8 championship game, Nova owns bragging rights with two Big 8 titles in the past three seasons.
“This year coming into this tournament we had a role reversal,” Titans coach Jason Hively said. “A lot of people looked at us as the best team tonight. We weren’t the underdogs. We knew we were going to get Dillard’s best punch for the entire four quarters.”
After Green left the game, Dillard responded with a 15-8 run bridging the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Paul sparked the run, highlighted by a bank shot in traffic while being fouled which cut the lead to 48-46 with 59 seconds left.
Nova forward Madelyn Corazza left the door open for Dillard to tie by missing one of two free throws, but Paul lost the ball on the ensuing possession and Devaney sealed the game with two free throws.