Heathwood Hall closed the regular season on Tuesday with a positive performance in a losing effort against nationally ranked New Hope Christian Academy.
The Highlanders (20-4) gave the visiting Phoenix (29-0), ranked No. 6 on the Max Preps Xcellent 25 list, a run for the money before falling 64-51 in A’ja Wilson’s final game in Columbia as a prep player.
“I’d rather lose by 13 to a team of this caliber going into the state tournament than to beat somebody by 40,” Highlanders coach John O’Cain said. “The girls showed plenty of grit when it looked like things were starting to get away from us. I think we proved we belong on the same floor tonight.”
That wasn’t the case in the first meeting on Jan. 10 in North Carolina. With Wilson sitting out with an injury, Heathwood Hall was overmatched and overwhelmed by 72 points, 97-25.
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“We knew this was going to be a different kind of game with (Wilson) on the floor,” said NHCA coach Delaney Rudd. “They gave us a game this time, and that made it a good win for us.”
While the Phoenix played up to their ranking, so did Wilson, who is considered the top senior player in the nation. Despite a sagging zone defense that limited her to 13 shot attempts, Wilson rang up 20 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks.
“I’m glad I got the chance to play against this team,” said the 6-foot-4 senior, who has yet to announce her college choice. “This was a positive performance for us going into state. It was an emotional night for me because I grew up with most of these girls, and this was the last time for us in front of our fans on our home court.”
The Phoenix dazzled the crowd with their adept ball handling and outside shooting ability. NHCA had 12 turnovers and totaled nine 3-pointers from seven players.
Still, the Highlanders made it interesting.
The Phoenix seemed on the verge of blowing out the hosts with a 16-1 run in the opening 3:15 of the third quarter that expanded a 34-29 halftime advantage to a 50-30 lead.
Heathwood Hall responded with a 14-0 run to cut the deficit to 50-44 with 40 seconds to go in the third.
The Highlanders were within 57-49 with 3:29 remaining before running out of gas.
Victoria Dickerson backed Wilson with 13 points.
Senior point guard Katherine Harris led NHCA with 15 points and seven assists. Kristina King chipped in 13 points for the Phoenix.