Second-half surge helps McEachern girls basketball pull away from Archer 81-62

Archer’s bench reacts during the final minutes of Saturday’s Class AAAAAA girls basketball final at the Macon Centreplex. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

Archer’s bench reacts during the final minutes of Saturday’s Class AAAAAA girls basketball final at the Macon Centreplex. (Photo: Kyle Hess)

MACON — On the surface, the third quarter appeared to be most decisive moment of Archer’s Class AAAAAA state girls basketball showdown with McEachern.

But the die for the nationally ranked Indians’ 81-62 win over the Tigers on Saturday at the Macon Centreplex may have been cast even earlier.

With All-American juniors Te’a Cooper and Caliya Robinson on the bench in foul trouble throughout the second quarter, Archer (29-4) had a chance to make a major move.

But while the Tigers did manage to briefly tie the game and trailed by just four points at the half, the Indians’ (28-2) two biggest guns came back firing in the second half.

Robinson scored 12 of her team-high 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field in the final 16 minutes, while Cooper dished our four of her five assists as McEachern outscored Archer 25-11 in the third quarter and pulled away for its second state title in the last three seasons.

“We got them in foul trouble early in the game,” Archer coach Ryan Lesniak said. “That was part of our game plan — to give a pump fake and make them leave their feet. It’s something we noticed on film. When you get two All-American-type kids on the bench, it’s very advantageous … and allowed us to win the second quarter. But they came out with a chip on their shoulder in the third quarter.”

After falling behind by as many as 10 points in the first quarter, the Tigers started battling back.

Buoyed by a basket each from sisters Madison and Autumn Newby, Archer scored the final five points of the first quarter and the first three of the next, cutting the McEachern lead to just 21-19 with the second quarter just 1:08 old.

And the Tigers appeared to grab major momentum when they drew a third personal foul on the Indians’ two biggest stars — Cooper, who had scored 15 of her 17 points in the first half, with 5:22 left in the half and Robinson, who had eight points and six rebounds in the half, 11 seconds later at the 5:11 mark — and sent them to the bench.

Archer appeared to take advantage by rolling off a 6-0 run to tie the game at 27-apiece following Tatiana Wayne’s layup with 4:52 left in the half.

But even with its two biggest guns out of the game, McEachern turned up its full-court defense and pressured Archer into six of its 13 first-half turnovers, which keyed a 12-4 run that put the Indians back up 39-31 after a layup from KlinTisha Martin with 2:21 left in the half.

However, the Tigers managed to calm themselves over the final minute of the half, and a coast-to-coast drive from Autumn Newby, followed by a fastbreak layup from Amber Skidgel, brought them back to within 39-35 by intermission.

Still, while the Indians’ lead was a narrow one, McEachern coach Phyllis Arthur said it had her team feeling like it had gained new life.

“Anything can happen at this level of basketball,” Arthur said said. “We said, ‘As long as we’re winning at halftime, it’s going to be our game.’ … I felt we dodged a huge bullet. They (Archer) were gunning for us. When Te’a and Caliya were out with foul trouble, the subs did what they had to do. They kept us going.”

It was Robinson who got McEachern going coming out of the locker room in the third quarter.

The 6-foot-3 forward connected on a jumper in the lane, dished off to Jada Lewis for a 3-pointer and hit a 3 of her own in the first 2:08 of the third quarter to push McEachern’s lead into double digits.

And when Taylor Gordon finished what turned out to be a 15-2 run with a pair of free throws with 4:12 left in the period, the lead had suddenly ballooned to 54-37.

From there, Archer found itself in a hole too deep to crawl out of, though Madison Newby tried her best, scoring eight of her game-high 21 points over the remainder of the quarter.

But the Tigers could never pull any closer than 13 points, and when Cooper dished off to Zieandrea Bridges for a layup with 19 seconds left in the quarter, McEachern took a 64-46 lead into the final frame and never looked back.

Despite the disappointing result, Lesniak said the loss did not diminish the accomplishments the Tigers had earned during this historic season, which included the Region 8-AAAAAA title, in addition to their first state championship game appearance.

“Our kids worked their tails off,” Lesniak said. “They did a great job. I’m proud of my players.”

Autumn Newby joined her sister in having a huge night for the Tigers, finishing with 20 points, 15 rebounds and three assists, while fellow freshman Linsey Marchese gave important contributions off the bench with eight points and five rebounds.

Robinson had 11 rebounds and six blocked shots to go with her points, while Jada Lewis also finished in double figures with 14 points and added five assits for McEachern.