MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — The Wesleyan girls seemed determined not to let Diamond DeShields beat them, hounding the Norcross standout with a box-and-one defense throughout.
But in the end, it was a basketball player who wasn’t even on the Norcross team until a couple of weeks ago that did in Wesleyan on Thursday.
Shiala Cooper grabbed a rebound after DeShields missed in heavy traffic, was fouled with 2.9 seconds left and calmly sank two free throws to give Norcross a 58-57 victory and third place in the Crescent Bank Holiday Invitational.
“It feels great to help my new team,” Cooper said. “I’m a good foul shooter. I practice all the time.”
Foul shooting and rebounding were the differences in the meeting of defending Class AAAAA and Class A girls state champions more than 350 miles away from their homes on Spalding Drive in the Peachtree Corners area of Norcross.
Wesleyan, which led by nine points with just over eight minutes to play, missed three straight one-and-one opportunities in the final two minutes and was out-rebounded 45-25.
Norcross (11-1) had 21 offensive rebounds, the most important by Cooper in the closing seconds.
“She’s a player,” Norcross coach Angie Hembree said. “Once she learns our system and gets in shape, she’s going to be really good.”
Cooper played at Wharton in Tampa last year and moved to Georgia late this summer, first enrolling at Hiram in Paulding County. She didn’t get to Norcross until November and played her first game with the Blue Devils on Dec. 10.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore scored 11 points — all except the winning free throws in the first half — and had eight rebounds.
“I really like my teammates,” Cooper said. “This was a big win for us. It feels good.”
DeShields made just one basket in the second half, but hit 7 of 8 free throws and finished with a game-high 16 points despite being harassed by Grace Leah Baughn or Katie Frerking all game. The sophomore star was 4-for-12 from the floor, going 1 of 4 from behind the 3-point arc.
“They were very physical on her,” Hembree said. “But I thought she did a good job handling it.”
Dearica Hamby had 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Devils. Wesleyan (10-2) placed three players in double figures. Frerking had 11 points — all in the second half. Holli Wilkins and Jordan Frazier each scored 10, with Frazier also getting eight steals.
Wesleyan coach Jan Azar wasn’t happy that a foul was called to put Cooper on the line for her winning free throws.
“The refs shouldn’t decide a game,” she said.
But Azar was just as displeased with her team’s late foul shooting.
“You can’t miss one-and-one chances like that,” she said.
Until the three late misses, Wesleyan had been 8-for-11 at the line. Norcross finished 12-for-19.
Norcross and Wesleyan had hoped to play for the title, rather than for third place. But the game itself certainly lived up to expectations.
Cooper scored at the buzzer on a rebound to tie the game at 28 going to the intermission.
Wesleyan had nine first-half steals and five of the 13 turnovers by Norcross came in the first six minutes as the Wolves went up 12-6 thanks in part to two steals and baskets by Frazier.
Norcross then went on a 12-2 run to lead 18-14 and the game went back and forth from there. The Blue Devils had a big edge on the boards, out-rebounding Wesleyan 25-10 in the first half. Hamby had seven rebounds by intermission.
A 13-3 run gave Wesleyan a 43-35 lead with just under 11 minutes to play and the Wolves’ biggest lead was 49-40 before Norcross scored eight straight points. From there, it was tight throughout.
The game was just the second meeting between the two teams. Norcross won 70-56 on Nov. 24, 2008 in the Parkview Tip-Off tournament.