SOPHOMORE Shelton Kendrix scored 20 points, and Jackson County made a living at the free throw line as the Lady Panthers picked up a 43-33 home win over rival East Jackson Friday.
The victory snapped a nine-game losing skid and gave Jackson County its first region win of the year.
“We had hoped that our experience that we had with our non-region schedule would help in the region,” said coach Julie McCutcheon, who picked up her third win as Jackson County’s head coach. “It (the win) does make us feel good because it’s been a very long drought over the Christmas break.”
The Lady Panthers shot 22-of-28 at the charity stripe, enabling them to close out an opponent in a tight contest after watching some games slip away earlier this year.
“This was a good conquer for us tonight (Friday) at the free throw line,” McCutcheon said. “It hasn’t gotten to the point where it’s mental yet, but it’s just something we’ve been improving on and working on their forms and getting better at fundamental basketball.”
Kendrix led the effort at the free throw line, hitting 12-of-14 attempts. She also knocked down two three-pointers, including a big one in the third quarter with Jackson County clinging to a 22-20 lead.
“That’s the great thing about her,” McCutcheon said. “She can shoot the three, but she also puts it on the floor and takes it to the basket and draws the foul really well, and she’s shooting very well at the free throw line right now.”
Mason Garland added nine points for the Lady Panthers, while Kieanna Ledford finished with eight points and had a monster night on the boards with 20 rebounds. McCutcheon noted Ledford’s improvement at the free throw line as the junior post player went 4-for-4.
Kayla Thomas paced East Jackson with 14 points.
The Panthers’ start in this game didn’t exactly foreshadow a 10-point win. East Jackson, seeking to end a five-game losing streak of its own, jumped out to a 11-2 lead on the strength of two 3-pointers from Thomas, forcing McCutcheon to burn an early time out.
“Down 11-2, that’s a time when some kids drop their heads, but this is just a very resilient group,” said McCutcheon, who noted that slow starts have been common for her young team. “They were very calm the entire time. They knew that they were just a few shots away from tying it up.”
Jackson County cut the lead to 11-7 at the end of the quarter and shot 8-of-11 from the charity stripe in the second period to take a 22-15 advantage into halftime.
East Jackson answered with 5-0 spurt in the third quarter but missed a breakaway layup that would have tied the game at 22. Kendrix countered with a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to extend Jackson County’s lead to 27-20 heading into the fourth quarter.
East Jackson refused to go away, trimming Jackson County’s lead to 37-33 in the final minute. But the Lady Panthers hit six consecutive free throws in the final 36 seconds to salt away their first win since Dec. 7.
“We’ve been in several tournaments and played several very good teams, and I know it (the win) makes them feel better to remind them that they are good basketball players,” McCutcheon said.