FORT WALTON BEACH – With all five starters returning from last year’s 25-2 crew, including the Florida State University bound Brittany Brown, Choctaw’s 13-0 record entering the Pre-Christmas Bear Crawl Tournament should have come as little surprise.
Not only did the Indians possess Brown, the most dynamic scorer and complete player in the Daily News’ coverage area, but also a talented supporting cast highlighted by LaKeisha Clay, Brittany Washington and Lauren Day.
Together, the team had it all entering the show-case in Warner Robins, Ga. – multiple scoring threats, a lockdown defense and that coveted leadership.
But the team needed to work on its team chemistry, and coach Don Brown said his girls “used the trip as a bonding experience and the team unity and chemistry really strengthened.”
That team chemistry was on full display in Thursday’s 58-34 win over Lovejoy, Ga. in the first round of the Indian Shootout.
Brown had a triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists and Day poured in a game-high 18 points. Clay added 13 points for the 17-0 Indians, who shined defensively in every facet.
Forcing 19 turnovers with a perfect blend of help defense and smothering, half-court traps, the Indians held Lovejoy to 21 percent shoot-ing, didn’t allow a single player to score in double figures and didn’t give up a single 3-pointer.
“Defense is a big emphasis for this team,” said coach Brown, whose squad will face Spanish Fort, Ala. today at 5:30 p.m. in semifinal play. “We pride ourselves on excelling in that part of the game.
Also points of emphasis are ball security and good movement, both of which carried through to Thursday.
With a keen court vision, the Indians committed just nine turnovers and, led by Brown’s double-digit dimes, garnered an assist on 18 of their 25 baskets.
“One of our goals is to share the ball but also limit the turnovers,” coach Brown said. “We do that like we did tonight and we’ll be in good shape.”
The dominant effort began from the opening tip.
Jumping out to a 17-5 lead on the back of Day’s six first-quarter points, the Indians never looked back.
Day added six more in the second and Brown had nine points, eight boards and seven assists at the half to lift the Indians to a 33-16 lead headed into the locker room.
Lovejoy would never get within 15 in the second half, and Brown hit the triple-double mark early in the fourth before the starters departed in the rout.
FWB loses in first round
Without a player scoring in double figures, the Vikings lost 51-26 to Jonesboro, Ga. in the first round of the Indian Shootout.
Mercedez Clayborne had a team-high eight points and Katie O’Neal added seven for the Vikings, who will face Muhlenberg, Ky. today at 8:30 a.m. in the consolation semifinals.
Jonesboro, meanwhile, will face Johnson, Ala. in the semis at 4 p.m. today.
Free throws doom South Walton
There was nothing charitable about the charity stripe for South Walton in Thursday’s first-round tilt against Spanish Fort, Ala.
The Class 1A Seahawks led by as many as eight but a 13-for-33 clip from the four line lifted the Class 5 out-of-staters to a 55-49 overtime victory.
“We just didn’t know how to close it out,” South Walton coach Kevin Craig said. “… Live and learn.”
Casey Perot had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Katie Trejo added nine points for the Seahawks, who led by as many as six late in the fourth quarter.
The loss moves the Seahawks into the consolation semifinals, where they’ll face Lovejoy, Ga. today at 10 a.m.