When it’s working, it’s working. That was the only explanation senior Ansleigh Ferguson had to describe her career night in North Hall High’s feel-good, season-opening win Monday in Gainesville.
Ferguson scored her team’s first basket of the game and exploded for a career-high 34 points with 12 rebounds for a double-double as the North Hall girls basketball team fended off 6A Winder-Barrow, 69-62, on its own Lynn Cottrell Court.
“Ferguson has kind of been under the radar for her career,” North Hall girls coach Kristi House said. “No one really expects her to break out, but she’s a great post player. She’s got good hands, quick feet, she moves well and finished strong around the basket tonight. ... I’m just happy to see her come out and finish the first game of her senior year like that.”
Ferguson exploited Winder-Barrow’s defensive look in the second half by feeding off almost every opportunity she could get. The post player scored four baskets as part of a 10-2 North Hall run to kickstart the third period, and racked up 20 of North Hall’s 41 second-half points.
“(Winder-Barrow)’s defense was just weak in the middle, and we knew they had to pick up a zone around the third or fourth quarter ... it was just working tonight,” Ferguson said. “We all contribute, but whether its an assist or scoring points, I pretty much just do what’s best for my team. It makes me feel good, and I’m glad we got the win.”
Macy Gillespie (three steals) dished five assists and was the only other starter for North Hall (1-0) to score in double-digits with 10 points, followed by Grace Hollifield and Ansley Smallwood with seven points apiece.
It was indeed an ego booster for House’s squad, which played its non-region opponent tight for the entire way and only briefly led by as much as 10 points in the final period. It relied on some second-half adjustments to temper the pursuits of Winder-Barrow guard Chelia Watson, who paced the Lady Bulldoggs with 34 points and five 3-pointers. She showed off her sharpshooting tendencies from the perimeter to keep the Bulldoggs within reach, knocking down a contested trey from way outside the left wing to knot the score at 28-all before the buzzer and cap off a 19-point frenzy for the half.
House was pleased to see her unit respond to the challenge of limiting the shot selection of Watson, who was held to just four field goals over the final 16 minutes of play.
“We were just trying to get the ball out of her hands as quick as we could,” House said of Watson. “Just pick her up sooner, try to make her give it up and make somebody else try to do something.”
Winder-Barrow was a spotty 12-of-29 from the field for the second half as a result of North Hall’s adjustments. Makayla Jones chipped in seven of her 12 points in the fourth quarter as the only other scorer to amass double figures for the Lady Bulldoggs.
Yet, Winder-Barrow still lingered. They only trailed 48-41 going into the fourth period and twice cut the deficit to four inside the final two minutes. Watson’s fifth and final 3 of the night even made it 66-62 with six seconds left.
North Hall’s Rylee McCall quickly shut the door in those closing seconds by sinking 3-of-4 attempts from the stripe.
“Overall we played well,” the ninth-year North Hall coach said. “We made some mistakes, but we played hard ... We have things to work on, but we feel good about where we’re at right now.”
The Lady Trojans will continue the annual round-robin play Tuesday, Nov. 20, when they face Gainesville for a 1 p.m. tip at White County High in Cleveland.
WINDER BARROW BOYS 68, NORTH HALL 57: Brock Cooper scored a team-high 13 points for a Trojans squad that was missing many of its key pieces in a loss Monday.
With eight rostered players also on North Hall’s football team, and little leeway since last Friday night’s playoff loss, boys coach Tyler Sanders elected to hold off bringing on those players until after Thanksgiving.
Ryland Collins (nine points), Ty Smith (eight points) and Josh Cook (seven points) were others to produce for the Trojans (0-1), who trailed Winder-Barrow 36-20 at the half and couldn’t recover.
The Bulldoggs had three scorers in double figures. Brandon Barnis led the charge with 20 points, followed by Tyreek Perkins with 12 points and Jay Jackson with 10.