Uncharacteristic turnovers and a lack of execution in crunch time doomed Class 7A No. 1 Nova’s bid for a repeat trip to the Class 7A State final four.
With the 7A region championship up for grabs, Palm Beach Lakes guard Kayla Thigpen was the difference in the fourth quarter with seven of her game-high 21 points and a game-clinching steal with 14 seconds left as the No. 2 Rams (25-1) rallied for a 48-46 victory before a partisan home crowd on Saturday night.
Titans coach Jason Hively looked perplexed after his team, which built its reputation on turning opponents over with its stifling press became unglued against the Rams’ pressure.
“Giving up loose rebounds and turning the ball over hurt us tonight,” Hively said. “I think defensively we did what we wanted tonight. We held them to 46 but the turnovers cost us the game tonight.
“In the fourth quarter we led until midway through the fourth. We just beat ourselves. It wasn’t anything they did.”
This is not the way Nova’s outstanding seniors Bernadette Devaney and Trellanie English-Lurry expected to go out. The plan was to return to Lakeland after losing 63-49 to Gainesville Buchholz in the state championship game last season and take care of unfinished business.
Unfortunately, Nova let the Rams hang around and Thigpen lit the spark for the comeback with a three-pointer to beat third quarter buzzer and pull the Rams within 37-35 going into the fourth quarter.
The three-point prowess Nova (24-4) thrives on deserted them against the Rams with English-Lurry hitting the only shot beyond the arc. Devaney finished with seven points, Deja Roberts added 10 points and Kiani Lurry had nine points.
Despite being pounded on the offensive glass and its rash of miscues, the Titans still held a 43-41 lead when Deja Roberts hit a 15 foot jumper with 2:43 left. But Thigpen tied the game on a layup then came up with two steals and put the Rams ahead for good 47-44 on a layup with 47 seconds left.