WYLIE — It was a down-to-the wire type of finish, the sort of ending you’d expect from the two best teams in the district fighting for the top spot with the end of the regular season in sight.
So it was no surprise when the Denison Lady Yellow Jackets and the Wylie East Lady Raiders were down to the final possession in the closing seconds with everything on the line.
Neither team had led at any point by more than two possessions, and a breakneck pace early slowed to a grind in the second half.
In the final minute the Lady Raiders made a couple of key plays at both ends of the floor and Zya Nugent’s three-pointer missed its mark for a chance to force overtime in Denison’s 54-51 loss against Wylie East in District 10-5A action on Friday night.
“We competed very well and Wylie East showed they were the No. 1 team in our district,” Denison head coach Rod Been said. “I’ll promise this stings our four seniors. They wanted to win this district. Wylie East had other plans.”
Nugent finished with 19 points and became the program’s all-time leading scorer to go with seven steals, six rebounds and five assists, Jade Fry added 12 points and four rebounds and Zachareia Sommers and Taryn Gaines each finished with nine points and seven rebounds for Denison (20-11, 7-2), which is locked into the second seed for the playoffs and will face Frisco Centennial at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in Anna to open the postseason.
Mary Nyakundi scored 14 points, Akasha Davis added 11 points, Kiley Hicks totaled nine points, Taylor Dailey chipped in eight points and Desiree Pierson finished with seven points for Wylie East (21-10, 9-0), which clinched the district title outright and the top seed for the playoffs. The Lady Raiders won by 12 at Denison last month to force the Lady Jackets into a must-win mode to earn a share of the crown and still maintain a shot at the first seed.
The Lady Jackets had the lead for all but 38 seconds through the opening six minutes of the fourth quarter. Davis hit a jumper with 6:23 remaining but Nugent had a steal near midcourt and an easy layup to put Denison back in front, 47-46.
That basket was the record-setter for the all-state senior guard, allowing her to pass Shayla Moore’s record of 2,777 career points from 2002-06. It was, like so many of those points along the way, a crucial basket and she followed with another midway through the quarter.
“I’m sure it would have meant more to get in a win,” Been said. “She talked to the team in the locker room and acknowledged them about how they were a part of it. She’s got a chance to get into the top 25 all-time so we’ll see where she ends up.”
A free throw by Pierson pulled Wylie East even at 49 with 1:45 left but Nugent hit a pair from the line 30 seconds later. Those turned out to be the last points by the Lady Jackets.
Nyakundi got in the lane, hit her lay-up and was fouled. She hit the free throw for the lead.
“Mary’s ability to cut through our zone defense and finish, it was the difference in the game,” Been said. “We had a lead and we couldn’t close the gaps.”
Denison worked the clock down from 57 seconds to 28 before East fouled but the Lady Jackets weren’t in the bonus. There was a turnover on the inbounds and Hicks made both of her free throws with six seconds left.
It was plenty of time to force the extra period but Nugent’s tying attempt from deep on the right wing was short and Wylie East held on.
Denison held the Lady Raiders to just one basket for the first five-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter but the Lady Jackets were unable to capitalize with anything more than a four-point lead.
Nugent opened the quarter with a pair of free throws and Davis’ layup on the other end gave Wylie East its only lead of the stanza. Fry scored a minute later and Denison was in front going to the fourth. The frustration came from being unable to make it bigger than the 43-41 margin after Nyakundi’s floater in the lane in the final seconds.
The teams went nearly three minutes of scoreless action before Nugent banked in a three-pointer from the right wing at the 3:04 mark. Nyakundi scored on a drive and the only other Denison points came from Gaines underneath with 1:02 on the clock.
Wylie East carried the lead into the second quarter, although Gaines took a chunk out of it by converting a three-point play to open the frame. Still the Lady Raiders held their slim margin until Ikia Lacy made two free throws with 2:13 left in the half.
Nugent nailed a jumper and Sommers followed with a free throw to put Denison in front with just over a minute remaining until the break but the Lady Jackets couldn’t hold it. Wylie East got within a point and Davis sent in a putback as the buzzer expired to swing a little momentum to the Lady Raiders.
Denison had the early advantage but Dailey hit a three-pointer in the middle of the first quarter as Wylie East took its first lead at 7-5. The Lady Jackets held the lead for a spell; the Lady Raiders answered. Nugent hit a three-pointer to tie things up at 16 but Michelle Nyakundi responded with one of her own and then Mary Nyakundi scored at the basket in the closing seconds for a 21-16 advantage after the first eight minutes.
“We had so many missed opportunities,” Been said. “Didn’t execute and they capitalized on it.”