Called the “equalizer” by her coach, Thomasville’s Danisha Jones was the difference-maker Friday.
During the consolation bracket at the 18th annual State Farm/Seminole Wind Holiday Hoopfest, the Bulldogs fed Jones early and often as she carried the Bulldogs past rival Cairo 52-44. Thomasville faces Terrell County at 1 p.m. today in the fifth-place game, while the Syrupmaids meet Twiggs County in the seventh-place game at 10 a.m. today. Terrell beat Twiggs 72-39 on Friday.
Jones, a 6-foot-2 junior post presence, scored the game’s first seven points Friday as she was the focal point of THS coach Antonio Wade’s gameplan.
“That was the goal,” he said. “We’ve got to get it to ‘D’. That’s the strength of our team, our inside presence. I wanted to really feed her until they reacted.
“She’s really the great equalizer. When we can get her going early, it makes everybody else’s job easier.”
But the Syrupmaids had no answer for Jones. Cairo’s tallest player is 6-foot Tia Washington, who didn’t have the size to combat Jones inside.
After missing her first shot — which she rebounded and then got fouled to put THS up 1-0 — Jones hit on her next three attempts as the Bulldogs led 7-0 midway through the first quarter. She totaled nine points on five shots with fellow big Sapphire Austin adding six points as the Bulldogs (6-3) attacked the undersized Syrupmaids during a 19-5 first quarter.
“They’ve got two posts and we’ve got kids,” Cairo coach Lucy Baker said. “(Jones) was as good of a post as I’ve seen today. She didn’t miss many.
“She’s got size, and what are you going to do. She is who she is. And we don’t have one like her.”
Once the Syrupmaids (2-8) started to adjust, packing their defense inside, Thomasville junior point guard Ricarsha Johnson countered. With the Bulldogs spreading the floor, Johnson sliced through Cairo’s man defense as she tied Jones for the first-half scoring lead with 13 points. Johnson finished with a game-high 21. Jones finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“When they did that, it really opened everything up for us,” Wade said as Thomasville led 32-16 at halftime. “I think Ricarsha played very good for us, and was under control. I think she ended up shooting 10 of 12 from the field.”
Added Baker: “It didn’t matter what we were doing, we weren’t doing it well.”
Trailing 42-25 entering the fourth quarter, Cairo found life behind freshman Demytra Robinson. With the Syrupmaids playing three freshmen in the final quarter, Robinson started to pull Cairo back in it, as Thomasville led 48-26 with 3:38 remaining following Jones’ final basket and two Austin free throws.
Robinson then countered with back-to-back 3-pointers to get Cairo back within 20. The Bulldogs, who had dove deep into their bench as well, struggled to handle Cairo’s pressure as they turned it over on five of six possessions. THS had 34 turnovers in all.
That allowed Robinson to keep firing. Sandwiched around the 26th of Cairo’s 27 turnovers in the game, Robinson drilled three more 3s, the final one pulling the Syrupmaids within 50-43 with 1:12 left.
“We thought we were ready, but we weren’t ready,” Baker said as Robinson scored all 16 of her points, including hitting one of three free throws with three seconds left in the game, in the fourth.
“We talked about some things, and you think they’re ready and they think they’re ready. Then we come out and we’re as flat-footed as a, we could have been ducks out there.”
Johnson, though, countered with another layup and THS survived.