TUCKER - Only one team was going to make a brand-new kind of history in Thursday’s game between Salem and Tucker. And with the way the hosts were playing defense, it was just a matter of time before Tucker was adding a page to the record books.
Tucker forced 14 turnovers in each half and held Salem to just 12 made field goals in a 55-39 victory in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals.
Tucker (27-4), in the Elite 8 for the third time since 2004, advanced to the program’s first final four since 1978 when the DeKalb County school lost to eventual state champion Lowndes in the Class AAA semifinals. The finest season in Salem history, which included Thursday’s first-ever trip to the quarterfinals, ended at 25-4.
It was still a winnable game for Salem with 3 1/2 minutes to go in the fourth. Paris Scott came off the bench and banked in a 3-pointer, capping a 13-2 run and getting the visiting Seminoles to within 43-35 at the 3:32 mark. But Salem couldn’t pull any closer than that.
Tucker followed with a huge possession. Erykah Davenport was fouled and hit the first of two free throws for the last of her game-high 17 points. When Davenport missed the second shot, Naima Jackson grabbed the rebound and was also fouled, hitting both charity shots to make it a 46-35 game with 3:12 to go.
Salem’s main three offensive threats struggled for much of the game, contributing heavily to one of the Seminoles’ lowest point totals of the season. Taylor King, who played what turned out to be her last game in a Salem uniform, was averaging 11 points in two state tournament games, but was held to just two points. Ayanna Mitchell, one of the finest unsigned juniors in the state, was held to just nine points and didn’t register her first and only field goal until a lay up with 39 seconds left and the game well out of hand.
Shay Tarver, who has played through an ankle injury since the Region 8-AAAAA Tournament, had seven points after averaging 12 through the first two rounds. The Seminoles also struggled from the foul line, hitting just 12 of 26 attempts from the stripe.
Jennifer Tindi, another senior, picked up some of the offensive slack early on and kept Salem in the game, thanks to her prowess on the offensive glass in the opening period.
The Seminoles had four made field goals in the first, three of which came on Tindi put backs, including two straight in the final 38 seconds that got the visitors to within 16-9 heading to the second quarter.
Tucker still held a 20-9 cushion when the region 6 runner-up went cold offensively.
The Tigers went 5:43 without a point, but Salem didn’t take advantage enough. King had her only bucket and was fouled, but missed the free throw, and Tindi, Tarver and Rosie Kyles each followed with a 1 for 2 trip to the line and it was a 20-15 game with just under two minutes until halftime.
Tucker got it together late in the first half. Jackson’s steal and assist on Jemilla Flanagan’s lay up was the first of five straight points that heaped the Tigers build a 25-15 halftime lead.
Thanks to a combined 11 points from Davenport and Tori Robinson in the third, Tucker built a lead as large as 19 points. Tarver made a difficult runner in the lane and followed with a fall-away jumper that helped the Seminoles close the period down 41-24. Salem extended its run at the start of the fourth, thanks to a three from Kyles (game-high nine points) and a combined 3 for 5 trip to the line from Mitchell and Tarver. Tarver picked up her last two fouls 13 seconds apart, which preceded Scott’s entrance into the game and her wild three that made it an eight-point game.
Salem didn’t score until Kyles knocked down a 3-pointer at the 5:47 mark of the opening quarter. Davenport scored 11 first-quarter points and the Tucker defense forced 10 turnovers in the opening quarter and led 16-5 at the two-minute mark.