Monroe’s Key Key Price, right, tries to put up a shot over the defense of Crisp County center Nasheema Oliver during Friday night’s No. 1 vs. No. 2 Fab 5 showdown in Cordele. Monroe won, 53-45. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CORDELE — University of Georgia’s women’s basketball coach Andy Landers showed up Friday to see Crisp County’s Nasheema Oliver in an early showdown with Monroe as the top two ranked girls teams in The Herald’s Fab 5 Poll met for what could be the first of three meetings.
The poll will stay the same after Monroe managed to pull away to beat Crisp, 53-45, on a night when both of Monroe’s super freshmen — Jomekia Morine and Cekeya Mack — sat out with nagging injuries, and Oliver sat out parts of the second and third quarter in foul trouble.
In the end, it was Monroe sophomore Key Key Price who was the difference as she took over in the second half — and down the stretch — to keep Monroe unbeaten at 7-0 overall and 6-0 in Region 1-AAAA play. Crisp fell to 3-1, and all four of the Lady Cougars’ games so far have come against region opponents.
Price finished with 19 points, including 15 in the second half. She took over in a tough back-and-forth third quarter, scoring seven points in a row to help Monroe break a 28-28 tie and take a 37-31 lead into the fourth.
Price was priceless in the stretch as she scored eight of Monroe’s final 10 points.
Monroe led, 43-41, when Price made a spinning move in traffic and finished with an and-one play — and kept coming. She then ripped off another personal six-point run to lift Monroe to a 49-44 lead with 1:05 left. She nailed two more free throws with 9.3 seconds left to put the icing on the win.
“She was our go-to-player (Friday night),” Monroe head coach Cheryl Cheeks said. “We want her to become the player she can be. She just needs to be more consistent.’’
It wasn’t just Price.
“We’re playing team ball,‘’ Cheeks said. “Our team doesn’t go around a couple of players. We want to play team ball.”
Price led the way, but freshman Lynsey Washington had a fast start and a big night, chipping in 12 points. Paige Cox gave Monroe an inside presence against the 6-foot-2 Oliver, and she finished with 11 points. Davone Anduze had nine.
But it was all Price down the stretch.
“It was an intense game,’’ said Price, a slick ball-handling guard who emerged last season as one of Monroe’s top players. “I had to wake up (in the second half) and realize this was a region game. My teammates were counting on me, and I had to wake up and step up.’’
“It was defense at the end,’’ Price said. “Defense won this game.’’
Oliver had a big night, scoring 20 points, grabbing nine rebounds, blocking two shots and coming up with a steal. She scored six points in a row in the fourth quarter to close to 43-41, before Price snapped back with her own run to lift Monroe.
After the game, Crisp County coach Barrett Wilkes was looking at his team’s free throw percentage, and it was killing him.
Crisp went 13 of 20 from the line, including four one-and-ones that might have changed the game.
“Rebounding and free throws. That was the difference Wilkes said. “We missed seven free throws in the first half. If we make those, it’s a different game.”
He also realized his team had an uphill fight all night after Monroe jumped out to a 12-2 lead in the first minutes of the game.
“If we hadn’t let them get out to such a fast start and handled the ball better, it’s a different game,” Wilkes said. “We had to battle back all night.’’
Monroe hit the court running, forcing 10 turnovers in the first three and half minutes of the game and built a 10-point lead before Oliver had gotten off a shot and grabbed a rebound.
It looked like it was going to be all Monroe all the time, but Crisp fought back, and once the Lady Cougars started beating Monroe’s press the game changed — and changed fast.
Washington, a freshman, was a big reason the Lady Tornadoes jumped out so fast. She hit 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first three minutes of the game.
“Washington came out and had her shot, and we just did what we do, forcing turnovers,” Cheeks said. “They came back. Crisp is a good team, and I’m not going to take anything away from them. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’re 1 and 2 in (the Fab 5) Poll. It’s good to be here (at No. 1), but we’ve still got work to do.”