FAYETTEVILLE — Playoff basketball has not been a thing of beauty for Southeast Raleigh’s girls basketball squad this season. Of course, the Bulldogs can do without the style points as long as the wins keep on coming.
And they did Thursday night with a 57-47 triumph against Durham Riverside in a NCHSAA 4A Eastern regional semifinal.
“We played a great first half and a not so great second half,” Southeast Raleigh coach Nicole Meyers said. “We found a way to dig it out, but it wasn’t pretty.”
The Bulldogs (25-2) will meet Durham Hillside (24-5) Saturday at 4 p.m. back at the Crown with a state championship berth on the line. Hillside beat defending state champion Millbrook 70-55 in the other regional semifinal played Thursday.
The Bulldogs shot a blistering 54 percent (14-for-26) from the field in the first half on a night no other girls team at the venue shot more than 38. Five of the six Southeast players who attempted a field goal in the first 16 minutes of play hit at a 50 percent or better clip.
Playing their third game in the past two seasons on the Crown Coliseum court gave Southeast a near-home court advantage.
“We worked a lot on our jump shots, practicing this week,” senior point guard Alexus Hicks said. “And we’ve been here before so we know a little bit about how the rims are going to react to soft or hard shots.”
Hicks and teammate Jade Phillips (eight rebounds) finished with 15 points each, forming a triple-threat with N.C. State recruit Amber Richardson (19 points) Riverside (19-9) couldn’t match.
The Bulldogs led 31-21 at the break and by as many as 16 in the third quarter, but the Pirates slowly crawled back as its defensive production picked up.
“I felt like we could have pushed a little harder on defense in the first half,” Riverside coach Alicia Jones said. “I wanted us to pressure them more. Once we came together and started playing better defense, we got back in it. But then we started missing free throws and that’s what killed us.”
The Pirates closed the gap to 46-43 with 4:41 to play and had multiple chances to get closer over the next three minutes but the free-throw line – a place they seemed to have finally conquered during sectional play last week – became their bugaboo again. Riverside went just 2-for-7 from the line in the final 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
Southeast, meanwhile, helped the Pirates stay around with free-throw struggles of its own which didn’t end until Hicks made three straight in the final 50 seconds to stretch the lead back out to nine points.
Riverside’s scoring was balanced with five players finishing with between eight to 10 points. Zaria Rogers led the way with 10, while Yakima Clifton (10 rebounds) and Kiara Jacobs each had nine.
Southeast centered its defensive focus on Riverside 6-foot-3 junior center Mone’ Jones.
“We didn’t want to double team her and open up the other shooters,” Myers said. “We just tried to front her like we play other big girls and be smart with our help side defense.”
Jones finished with eight points on only seven field goal attempts, and she admitted the attention bothered her at times.
“I knew it was going to be a physical game,” she said. “And it got to me a little bit at times, but my teammates and coaches did a good job of settling me down.”
The Pirates graduate just two seniors — Andrea’Anna Poole and D’asya Wilson – and return four starters next season.
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