After squandering a pair of double-digit leads Tuesday night in Raeford, she’s just glad Purnell Swett’s girls basketball team survived a stiff road test from the upset-minded Bucks.
“I don’t think it hit us until the game was tied,” Bird said. “We needed to buckle down and play harder.”
Bird broke a tie game with 28.7 seconds left with a pair of free throws to finish with a season-high 28 points as the Lady Rams outlasted Hoke, 50-46, in a Southeastern Conference matchup.
It was the second time this season the Bucks (2-18, 0-9) took a team from Robeson County to the wire at home after nearly beating Lumberton on Jan. 10.
“I knew before we walked in the gym we would have to play with it being senior night,” Swett coach Danyel Locklear said. “They wanted it more than we did. We came in and didn’t play up to our potential at all.”
The Rams built a 38-28 lead in the second half before Hoke responded with a momentum-altering run. A layup from Ayanna Pegues capped a 12-1 run to open the fourth quarter for the Bucks, giving Hoke its first lead of the game at 45-44 with 2:16 remaining.
Bird answered with a sprawling hoop-and-harm at the other end to regain the lead.
“Hoke’s always been a physical team with us,” Bird said after giving a fist pump following her 26th point. “They tried to beat us up.”
Pegues scored a team-high 18 points for Hoke while Courtney Pate hit a pair of late-game jumpers and dished out six assists.
The Lady Rams jumped out to a 17-4 lead before the Bucks began to creep back into the game thanks to faulty defense and sloppy ball-handling. By halftime, Swett’s once sizable advantage was trimmed to eight.
“My girls don’t give up and that’s the strongest part of this team,” Locklear said. “There are times when we’re still coming to grips with actually winning some ballgames. Whenever we get the lead, we kind of sit back. It takes time to learn you can’t sit back against any team.”
Swett (13-8, 5-4) continued its best season in a decade with its fifth conference victory, pushing the Lady Rams one game ahead of Lumberton in the SEC standings. The two rivals meet Friday night at Lumberton (12-10, 4-5) in a contest that could force a tie with Richmond for the league’s No. 2 seed should the Lady Rams prevail and the Lady Raiders (14-6, 6-3) lose to Scotland.
The last time the Lady Pirates and Lady Rams met, Swett snapped a 34-game losing streak.
“We know Lumberton will come out and go at us hard from the start,” Locklear said. “I just want the girls to focus and play hard. Don’t think about anything else.”
Reach Staff writer Brad Crawford at 910-272-6119 or at firstname.lastname@example.org