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One Win Away: Defensive Masterpiece Propels Lady Nubians

By Mark Francis Jr., 03/10/23, 6:00PM EST


Africentric advances to the Division III State Title Game

DAYTON, Ohio - - In her first trip to a state final four as head coach, the Africentric graduate Janicia Anderson made sure her girls were on point from the opening tip, putting on a defensive masterpiece against an experienced Wheelersburg team. After leading 27-13 going into the half, and forcing Wheelersburg into shooting 18% in the first half, the Lady Nubains are going back to the state championship game for the first time since 2019 with a 55-37 win over the Lady Pirates of Wheelersburg. 

This win gets Africentric to its 10th total state championship game as they will now search for their eighth as a school. 

The opening frame started with four quick points from the Nubians as junior Natiah Nelson and freshman Janiya Bowers both scored to get the party started for Africentric. Off of a nicely drawn up inbounds play, junior Sam Thompson hit a layup and forced Wheelersburg to call a timeout as Africentric raced out to an early 10-3 lead. 

Four points was the closest the Lady Pirates got all night, and it was in the opening frame. Senior Makeena Walker’s bucket made it 10-6 then a 7-1 run for the Lady Nubians ensued and Africentric led 17-7. They ended the first quarter leading 19-7 and forced Wheelersburg into shooting barely over 13% from the field. Their defensive effort was sparked by blocks from Ashtan Winfrey and steals from three other players as well, as Bowers, senior Ariel Grace and sophomore Shaunie Little was able to get those takeaways to translate into points.

Lexie Rucker broke the second quarter scoring drought as both teams began to settle in a little bit into what was an 8-6 quarter with the advantage going to the Lady Nubians. Whenever Wheelersburg was able to put the ball in the basket, Africentric answered right back with in route to a 27-13 halftime lead for the purple and black. Coach Andersons’ bunch lived in the paint in the first half, outscoring Wheelersburg 22-8 in the paint during the first 16 minutes. 

Junior Natiah Nelson scored 10 of her game-high 13 points in the first half while Africentric shot 60% from the field in the opening half as well. 

After back-to-back buckets from seniors Keira Kennard and Makenna Walker cut the lead to 27-17, Ariel Grace began to cook. She went on a personal 7-2 run and capped it off with an And-1 to stretch the lead to 34-19 as time bled away in the third quarter. A quick 5-2 run to close the frame put Africentric up 39-21 after three quarters, with the state championship game in their sights. 

A 22-point Lady Nubian lead got cut to 18 before too long, until Taelynn Clayborn stepped up to the free throw line and sank two to make it 47-30. The onslaught did not stop, Africentric continued to make a statement and cruised to the 55-37 win over the experienced Wheelersburg team. 

Head coach Janicia Anderson makes it to her first state championship game as a head coach after being on the staff for the last title. “These girls know how important it is to play for the name on the front of the jersey as well,” coach Anderson said in the post game press conference, referring to the legacy and prestige this school has earned over the course of 20 years. 

Wheelersburg was led in scoring by seniors Keira Kennard and Makenna Walker, who both scored 10 points a piece. Lexie Rucker added seven points and six rebounds and Madison Whittaker pitched in five points. Macee Eaton drained one from deep for her only points of the day plus Jocelyn Tilley scored a basket to round out the scoring for the Lady Pirates. 

Junior Natiah Nelson added seven rebounds and two steals to go along with her 13 total points. Freshman Janiya Bowers scored 10 points with four rebounds and a steal, senior Ariel Grace had five boards and a steal to pitch with her nine points. Ashtan Winfrey’s beautiful spin move and finish in the lane was two of her six points, she also had five rebounds. Shaunie Little pitched in six more points, two rebounds and a steal while Sam Thompson only scored four points but led the game with eight rebounds and she also tied a team-high with two assists. Taelynn Clayborn had six points, two rebounds and a huge block that helped her team maintain momentum. Rayanna Howell also hit a tough layup for her only points of the game, giving the Lady Nubians nine total players that put the ball in the bucket. 

Anderson, who was on the 2006 regional finalist team that fell to Berlin Highland and played in some big time games, half jokingly said the difference between being a player and coach is “getting them to do what I would.” Adding, “I like it here more, I can instill in them what I have in me,” and this team takes on her competitive personality.

Africentric will play Saturday at 5:15 at the University of Dayton, aiming for their eighth girls state championship.

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