There are only a handful of games left in Zya Nugent’s stellar high school career. There have been milestones — both personal and team-related — at seemingly every turn.
And as the countdown to become Denison’s all-time leading scorer draws closer with every basket, the senior guard put on a show with a monster performance against the Lady Yellow Jackets’ biggest rivals.
Nugent scored a career-high 43 points, 28 coming in the second half, to go with 20 rebounds, eight steals and five assists as Denison defeated Sherman, 81-46, to close out the first half of District 10-5A action at Bearcat Gymnasium on Friday night.
“I thought we worked the ball better second half and that makes Zya hard to guard,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “When we get into trouble is where everybody stands around. At half-time we talked about doing what we do really well and that’s when we were able to extend things.”
There wasn’t any outstanding part to producing that total. She didn’t hit 10 three-pointers or go 25-of-27 at the free-throw line. If you can put up 40-plus points in a steady manner, Nugent found a way.
“I think she was frustrated with her performance in the first half,” Sherman head coach David Upton said. “That was our game plan, to make other people beat us. She earned those points, outhustling us to rebounds. A lot of it was her effort on the offensive glass.”
With at least six games remaining, Nugent needs 105 points to surpass Shayla Moore’s school record of 2,777 points set from 2002-06.
Zachareia Sommers added 14 points, Jade Fry chipped in eight points and Ikia Lacy finished with five points for Denison (17-10, 4-1), which bounced back from its first district loss in two years and heads into the second-half of district play in second place and can clinch a third straight playoff appearance this week. It was Denison’s sixth straight victory in the rivalry.
“I think it’s understood we’re going to be judged on our playoff record,” said Been, referring to last year’s appearance in the region quarterfinals — the best finish in school history. “With a loss already, there’s a chance for people to think we’re not as good as we have been. Wylie East the next time is at their place and winning still gives us a shot at the top seed.”
Libby Ticknor and Kursten Alexander each had 11 points, Amiah DeHorney chipped in seven points and Sa’Nyah Hunter totaled five points for Sherman (7-20, 0-5), which is two games back of fourth-place Princeton and faces the Lady Panthers at home on Tuesday.
The final score shows a margin of nearly 40 points but through the middle of the third quarter it was anything but a runaway for the Lady Jackets.
Denison only had a five-point half-time lead and Sherman, which had a season-high for points in a district game, made it a one-possession game early in the third.
The advantage was five again in the middle of the quarter before it started slipping away for the Lady Bearcats. Six quick points pushed the lead to 11 and Sherman was in a three-minute scoring drought.
Denison’s 9-0 run to end the quarter was halted by Ticknor’s three-pointer from the left wing at the buzzer to make it 50-34. The momentum didn’t carry over the fourth quarter and the Lady Jackets kept scoring.
A 10-0 run keyed by Fry made it a 65-40 contest and Sherman was in the middle of hitting just two shots in the quarter to go with eight free throws. Over the final 12 minutes, the Lady Jackets outscoring the Lady Bearcats by a 45-15 margin.
Sommers hit three three-pointers in her third game back from a broken kneecap and didn’t look rusty at either ends of the floor.
“Those were huge for her own psyche,” Been said. “She hasn’t been pressing as much as I thought she might.”
The end of the game was a slog and the fourth quarter took 25 minutes with a procession of free throws and stoppages. Combined the teams had nine players with at least four fouls, although only one ended up disqualified.
It was an entirely different story in the first half, although the first six minutes would have let someone who skipped out early think it was smooth sailing the entire way for Denison.
The Lady Jackets scored the first six points and were up 16-2 before Sherman hit a shot, a layin by Savanna Hall with 1:39 left in the first quarter.
Nugent had nine of those points, sandwiching a putback between threes from her and Lacy. But Alexander hit a three-pointer in the final minute that trimmed the deficit to nine points and Sherman kept the margin in single digits through the break.
“We came to play today. We gave great effort offensively and defensively. I just want that to carry over to every game,” Upton said. “We talked about the energy and the effort they were putting out. We’ve got to keep that up. We have five games left and if we can bring that energy, we’ll upset somebody.”
Alexander kicked off the second quarter with a three-pointer and then added another with 2:57 remaining in the stanza and the Lady Bearcats were down just 20-19. The Lady Jackets were in the middle of a scoring drought before Nugent pulled them out of it and then hit Taryn Gaines for a bucket.
A steal and score from Nugent put the Lady Jackets up by seven before Ticknor hit two free throws with 0.01 seconds left in the half and Denison took its five-point advantage to the locker room while the Lady Bearcats carried plenty of hope for continuing an upset bid that lasted almost three quarters.
“They responded well to the challenge at half-time,” Been said. “We were out of sync. We’re going to get back in the gym and focus on the things we do really well.”