JACKSON — The Meridian High School girl's basketball team faltered in the second half, committing 13 turnovers — eight in the third quarter alone — and missed 13 of 20 foul shots after the break in a 61-53 Horn Lake High School Wednesday at the Mississippi Coliseum in 6A state semifinal action.
Additionally, the Lady Wildcats were 5 of 11 from beyond the arc in the first half, but just 1 of 9 in the second.
"We weren't mentally ready to play," Meridian coach Patricia Wilson said. "Our guards, I knew that they had to play smart in order for us to win this game, and they didn't."
Horn Lake (28-1) was led offensively by Olivia Cunningham who poured in a game-high 27 points.
The Lady Eagles advance to square off with Olive Branch for the 6A state title at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
Meridian (25-7) kicked off the affair scoring the first four points, including a 3-pointer from Tyquisha Naylor.
Horn Lake took their first and only lead of the first half, 9-8, with 2:00 remaining in the opening quarter after Cunningham drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing. It was one of two 3-pointers in the game for Cunningham.
Meridian's Amber Crowell put the Lady Wildcats back in front, 11-9, just before the end of the first with a 3-pointer of her own.
Following a basket from Horn Lake's Alexsye Thomas to begin the second period, Meridian would go on a 9-2 run to open up a 22-13 advantage. The run included back-to-back 3-pointers from Naylor and Crowell.
Yet the Lady Eagles answered with six straight points, including two breakaway layups from Cunningham, who scored 15 of her team's first 17 points to keep Horn Lake within striking distance.
"I came out really hard and just ready to win," Cunningham said. "I made good plays and wanted to play hard. I wanted to get my teammates open shots. I played determined."
Meridian possessed a 27-24 advantage heading to the locker room.
Senior center Kayla Gordon, who finished with 16 points and 23 rebounds, scoring the first three points of the third quarter to put Meridian ahead, 30-24. But then the turnovers and missed free throws would be the Lady Wildcats' Achilles heel from there. In addition to the eight turnovers in the quarter, Meridian missed 8 of 9 free throws.
"We had our opportunities," Gordon said. "We just let it slip away. We couldn't convert under pressure, we lost our head."
Horn Lake would take advantage and outscored the Lady Wildcats 17-9 in the period to hold a 41-36 lead heading to the fourth.
"We just turned it up," Horn Lake coach Janna Thompson said. "We generally don't do well in being in a passive defense. We were trying to cover (Gordon), early and that sometimes translates to the girls backing up offensively. We were too passive in the first half. Once we turned it up the second half, we did a lot better."
The Lady Eagles opened the fourth by scoring the first four points.
Naylor, who finished with 13 points, would cut the deficit back to five, 45-40, with 5:15 remaining, and Miracle Dubose scored 12 of her 15 points in the final period to keep Meridian within reach. But that's as close as the Lady Wildcats would get as missed free throws and turnovers would keep them from making any attempt at a comeback.
"You can't turn the ball over the way we did against a team like Horn Lake," Wilson said.
With nine seniors suiting up in their final game in a Wildcat uniform, Wilson has her hands full as she sets her sights on next year's squad.
"That's a large group (of seniors) that we're losing," Wilson said. "We just have to move on and look forward to those kids that are returning."
Said Gordon, “That's why I'm kind of in tears now. I just can't believe that it's over.”