CHARLOTTE – Myers Park coach Barbara Nelson wasn’t very happy with her team following their 46-41 loss at Butler on Jan. 31, and her many reasons were quite justified.
First, the loss was a big one. Not only did it end the surging Mustangs’ six-game win streak. It also snapped their 9-0 start to the conference season and tied Myers Park with Butler atop a tightly contested three-team Southwestern 4A race.
The turning point in the game came when Mustang star Taylor Henderson, who had poured in eight of the Mustangs’ 10 first quarter points, had to sit late in the first half after picking up her second foul.
With their star out, Butler went on an 8-2 run that turned a 14-14 tie into a 22-16 lead Myers Park would never get back.
The final straw for Nelson was the way her team handled not only the Bulldog pressure during the fateful run, but also how they handled the box-and-one defense they employed on a visibly frustrated Henderson, who finished with a hard-earned 16 points but didn’t score in the third quarter when the Mustangs were most out of sync.
“This is the first time we’ve seen (the box-and-one on Henderson) this year,” Nelson said. “I think we’ll see it from here on out. It’s a good game plan, but we thought we were prepared for it because they did it to us last year. Obviously, we weren’t. But the box-and-one had nothing to do with beating the full-court diamond press. We were awful against that. We threw it right to them. We tried to dribble the ball to beat the press, so we reverted back to early December tonight.”
In early December, the Mustangs were 1-3 and struggling to find an identity.
Aside from a 2-3 record at their Christmas tournament against some very quality opponents, the Mustangs have gone 11-1 since after getting back on track at Hickory Ridge with a 59-44 win on Feb. 4 doing something Nelson said after the Butler loss.
“If (Henderson) has 10 assists, they have to get out of that defense,” she said. “But we come down and take bad shots, don’t share the ball and don’t get the rebound, then the defense works and they’re not going to get out of it. We’re going to have to do a much better job with that.”
Against Hickory Ridge, they did. Henderson led a balanced attack in the most recent win with 15 points. Naya Clamp added a career-high 13, Mia Xerras scored 11 and Nia Nelson chipped in with eight points.
The balanced scoring and nightly contributions from a number of girls is what has this team playing so well.
Henderson leads the team in nearly every offensive category as the junior guard averages 21 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 2.8 steals, all numbers which leads the team. She’s not much of a 3-point shooter (8-of-33), but shoots 48% from the field and gets to the line with regularity.
When they’re on, like they have been so often of late, the Mustangs are getting help from everyone.
Nelson (7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds), Xerras (7.6 points) and Clamp (6.1 points) have been the biggest other scoring threats, but 11 girls play in the regular Mustang rotation.
They enter the final stretch with winnable games against East Meck (2-17) and Porter Ridge (7-13) coming up, but the big test will be the finale against upstart Independence (16-5).
Myers Park already beat the Patriots 71-58 behind Henderson’s 34 points and 11 rebounds.
No matter how the conference shakes out, even with a co-championship, Nelson has her girls playing some good basketball.
Nelson, who won her 700th career game last December, has had a lot of teams over her time, but this one is coming together as a very special one capable of doing big things come conference tournament and playoff time.
“We were certainly not picked to be where we are,” she said of pre-season media polls. “I love this team. They play really hard for us, they’re coachable and they’re good to each other. It’s one of my favorite teams. I love them and I really enjoy them as a group.”