It wasn’t picture perfect for the Hardaway girls basketball team.
In fact, there were moments in their 39-34 overtime victory against Whitewater in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs on Tuesday that the Lady Hawks appeared unable to convert anything on the offensive side of the floor.
But during crunch time — those four extra minutes after regulation — things finally started to click.
After scoring just 13 points through the final three quarters of regulation, Hardaway (18-9) scored the first six in overtime to surge ahead for the victory.
“We still didn’t play great in overtime, but after we scored the first two baskets, I looked at the clock and saw two and a half minutes left,” Hardaway coach Kendall Mills said after the game. “I felt like we were pretty good then.”
With the win, Hardaway will host Evans, which defeated Bradwell Institute, in the second round on Friday.
The Lady Hawks came out strong in the first quarter of the game, going ahead 14-5 after the first buzzer. The second quarter resulted in a number of turnovers and missed shots for both teams, however, leading to only three combined points for the two teams. Hardaway led 15-7 at the half.
Mills said the slow second quarter carried over after the break, when his team came out very nonchalant in the third. Whitewater (15-13) went on a 14-4 run in the quarter, giving itself the lead going into the fourth.
“You could see the players getting nervous,” he said of his team. “They weren’t confident with what they were doing with the ball. We turned it over too much and we missed free throws down the stretch.”
Still, Hardaway gave itself a chance to win in regulation.
Down 27-25, Shaunice Bennett hit Alexcia McNeal with a good pass in the paint, which McNeal converted to tie the game with 34 seconds remaining. A turnover by the Lady Wildcats gave Hardaway the ball with a chance to score.
It ran the clock down as far as it could, though, and never could get a good look at the basket, leading to four minutes of bonus basketball.
Bennett came out in overtime to score five of her team-high 11 points, two of which came on crucial free throws with just 13 seconds remaining to put the game out of reach.
McNeal added eight points in the game.
“In the huddle (before overtime), Coach just said to do our best,” Bennett said. “We never gave up. We just kept pushing.”
Mills added that, while Bennett didn’t have her best game offensively, she is a driving force behind the team’s success.
“She’s our little engine,” he said. “If she plays well, usually the team will too. Tonight, she had too many turnovers. I thought the other team defended her well. But she’s a fighter, and she came up big at the end.”
Whitewater was led by Kaelyn Dugger, who scored 12, 10 of which came in the second half and overtime.
Mills said his team would practice tomorrow, including a heavy dose of running and free throw shooting.
“Tomorrow is a personal development day,” he said.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.
Tuesday at Hardaway
Whitewater 5 2 14 6 7—34
Hardaway 14 1 4 8 12—37
Dugger 12, Barnett 8, Coggins 6, Jenkins 6, Ross 2.
Bennett 11, McNeal 8, Burgos 6, Raven 6, McElroy 5, Wells 3.
Records: Whitewater, 15-13; Hardaway, 18-9. Next: Whitewater, season over; Hardaway, Friday vs. Evans.