March 2, 2013 10:30:56 PM
CLINTON -- Nora Kathryn Carroll is a stat stuffer.
Whether it's traditional statistics like rebounds, assists, steals, or blocked shots or team-specific ones like deflections or all-around heads-up play, Carroll has a way of making an impact on a game.
By the way, she can shoot and score with the best, too.
Carroll showed Friday she can pack a scoring column, hitting 6 of 8 3-pointers en route to tying for game-high scoring honors with 20 points to help lead the Starkville Academy girls basketball team to a 68-54 victory against Bowling Green Academy in the semifinals of the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Overall State tournament at Mississippi College's A.E. Wood Coliseum.
The victory pushed Starkville Academy (42-0) into the state title game against Presbyterian Christian, which defeated Leake Academy 50-38 Saturday. Starkville Academy, which has won 51 games in a row, has three victories this season against Presbyterian Christian, including a win in the semifinals of the Class AAA state tournament at Jackson Academy. The Lady Volunteers rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter for that victory.
Maggie Proffitt added 20 points (4 of 9 from 3-point range), two assists, and two steals, while Sallie Kate Richardson had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists to join her teammates in double figures.
Anna Lea Little added eight points, 11 rebounds, and three assists, while Tiffany Huddleston had seven points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and four steals.
But Carroll, who hit five of her treys in the first half, sparked the Lady Volunteers' hot-shooting start. It didn't matter if she was left open or if she had a hand in her face. The junior guard-forward used her high-arching perimeter shot to help eliminate Bowling Green (39-2) for the second consecutive season. The win was Starkville Academy's second against Bowling Green this season.
"I have just practiced it and tried to stay focused," Carroll said. "You have to practice to get your good shot and stay focused all of the time."
Carroll learned how to shoot on a basketball goal in her driveway. She said Starkville Academy coach Glenn Schmidt and coach Kyle Morgan have worked with her to hone her shooting touch. She sets up like most shooters, with her right foot a little in front of the left one. She uses both hands to position the ball and then follows through a little more with the right hand. A hop at the end punctuates the shot.
But coming off a run that saw Starkville Academy win the Class AAA, Division II title, the Class AAA crown, and the overall state championship, Carroll wanted to do more for her team. She said she she worked in the offseason to perfect her shooting strike and continued to develop the repetition at practice.
"I think it was mainly my focus and my mind-set in that I wasn't staying focused on the whole game and on my shot and I was shooting too quick," Carroll said. "I didn't have my feet still and I would go ahead and shoot without being squared up."
As quickly as the Lady Volunteers like to play, Carroll said it often is difficult to slow down and tell herself to square her shoulders to the basket and to get her feet under her.
It has helped that Schmidt is there to remind her. The results came through in a big way to push the Lady Volunteers one step away from a second three-peat.
"That's what we expect her to do, make that shot," Schmidt said. "We have seen her do it a lot, and we believe she can hit it. We're glad and relieved she did. I don't think anybody would leave her open like that again."
Schmidt has the good fortune of having five players who can score in a variety of ways. Carroll, Little, and Proffitt are the "perimeter" players who can beat you shooting from distance. Huddleston has a strong mid-range shooting game, but she is at her best when she is creating and attacking in the open court or in a half-court set. Richardson can score with a variety of moves inside or she can move out to the 3-point arc and hurt teams there.
Regardless of who has the ball, Schmidt said she wants her players to make reaction plays, where they have there feet set and are ready to receive the ball and shoot, or they make a pass to an open teammate when they sense the defense is going to try to take something away.
On Friday, Schmidt said Carroll was prepared for her opportunities and didn't hesitate.
"She has been working on her shot since the second grade," Schmidt said. "She has worked to be able to score."
Schmidt wondered how Carroll has the strength to contribute on offense because the Lady Volunteers often ask her to defend one of the opposing team's best players. She said focus has been a key to Carroll becoming a more consistent contributor on offense.
"I think she is more confident," Schmidt said. "She is more confident in the rest of her game, which takes pressure off the shooting part. She doesn't feel like she has to make shots to be a good player. She is one of the best passers on the team. All of that helps her confidence for the shot."
It also helps confidence when all of your teammates are willing to share the basketball and get everyone in the rhythm of the game. Schmidt said her players' love for the game and their ability to react to situations without having to think about what to do has helped them have so much success. A perfect example came when the team went inside to Richardson in the third and fourth quarters after Bowling Green center Carolina Haik (10 points) picked up her third and fourth fouls late in the third quarter and had to leave the game. Richardson scored the Lady Volunteers' last basket of the third quarter and the first one of the fourth quarter.
Starkville Academy continued to pound the ball inside to Richardson, who scored after a 3-pointer by Proffitt and then missed two shots inside before Carroll hit a jump shot off a pass from Proffitt to bump the lead to 57-50 with 4:20 remaining. Bowling Green didn't get closer than seven the rest of the way.
Mackayla Dykes led Bowling Green with 14 points, while Melissa Crowe added 10.
Schmidt said feels Carroll's desire to work on her shooting is a perfect parallel to her team's ability to react to a situation. She smiled when she said it helps that the players have a little prodding from the sidelines.
"She hears an old lady screaming at her, 'Keep your feet still, keep your feet still. Be still. You have to be still,' " Schmidt said. "She hears somebody. She probably has a little echo in her ear where somebody has nagged her a little bit about it, but she has focused. She has done it."
Whether it's Schmidt or the little voice inside her head that tells her to get her feet set, Carroll has learned a solid base is the foundation to strong shooting. On Friday, she showed how quickly the Lady Volunteers can build once they have a sound framework.
"Points aren't everything, and defense is the key to the game," Carroll said. "That is what I focus on mainly. You just have to stay focused."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.