SOUTHERN PINES — As much as Lumberton senior guard London Thompson wanted a Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship for herself, to get one for her coach was important as well.
At halftime, Thompson reassured coach Danny Graham, with the Lady Pirates down nine points, that the team had enough to overcome the deficit. Then the the four-year starter backed her words and put on a clinic in the second half of a 68-64 win at Pinecrest to secure the conference tournament championship.
This title is the third straight for Lumberton and Thompson, who closed her career without a loss in an conference tournament whether it was the Southeastern or Sandhills Athletic Conference.
“I challenged them a little bit, and London said, ‘Coach, we got this,’” Graham said of the halftime locker room talk.
“I could see it in my girls that we were determined to beat this team,” she said. “It means a lot. (Graham) told me he loves and it means a lot to him, especially with him leaving soon.”
After a first half that Lumberton (23-4) went to the locker room to try and forget, the Lady Pirates used what Graham called a “great team effort,” to avenge a pair of losses in the regular season to Pinecrest (23-2).
“Well we won the (Robeson County) Shootout, we didn’t win the conference, but we came back and won the tournament and we have 23 wins. It’s been a great year,” said Graham with a smile while holding his final conference tournament championship trophy as he is set to retire after the season.
“Tonight they showed great heart. I think we were down 13 at one point in the first half. We cut it to nine and Maddy (Canady) and London led the way in the second half. I’m really proud of our bench, they gave us a big lift tonight.”
A second-half comeback took some coaxing in the form of a “fire speech” that set fire to the Lumberton offense. After posting 26 points in the first two quarters, the Lady Pirates scored 22 points in the third quarter.
That high -scoring quarter, coupled with a full-court press that gave the Lady Patriots fits, handed the lead to Lumberton, 48-46, after three quarters.
“Everybody’s energy changed after halftime, especially at the start of the third quarter when they played so hard,” Graham said. “I saw great leadership and a determination from London and Maddy not to lose.”
Thompson scored 19 of her game-high 26 points after halftime. Even when her offense wasn’t needed or coming down the stretch, she found a way to leave her impact with steals, rebounds and hustle plays to get the ball in the Lady Pirates’ hands.
“I knew that if I stepped up and went hard that my team would have my back,” Thompson said.
Pinecrest never let Lumberton take control of the scoreboard in the final quarter, and answered every time the Lady Pirates took a lead of more than four points.
Thompson made it a 56-50 ballgame with five minutes to go, and the Lady Pats cut the lead down to two points after a score and a quick turnover that resulted in a layup.
Canady sparked a response with nine straight points for the Lady Pirates to go up 65-59 with 1:21 left, and Pinecrest’s Keayna McLaughlin Zvkia Blue scored on back-to-back trips to cut the Lumberton lead to 65-64 with 38 seconds left.
Thompson and Canady played a vital role in breaking Pinecrest’s press in the second half once the Lady Pirates took the lead, and fed off each other with easy scores off Thompson’s drives.
“I told her that it was up to us to win this game,” Thompson said, “And she said, ‘I got you.’”
To close out, Thompson found herself stepping to the foul line, where he hit 3-of-4 from the stripe to put the game on ice.
Canady added 23 points for Lumberton, despite battling foul trouble in the final half.
McLaughlin scored 23 points for the Lady Patriots and Sara McIntosh added 15 points.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.