Brock Netter, Staff Writer
JACKSON — When you hit free throws at the success level Southeastern does, you can play any style of basketball you want.
Just ask Skylar Hice.
She was a huge beneficiary in a tough, physical battle on Saturday, converting 13-of-14 tries at the charity stripe as her Panthers handled Fairland by a 54-37 final in a Division III sectional championship.
In total, the Panthers (20-4) converted 22-of-25 free throws, compared to just 9-of-11 for the Dragons.
“Free throws are a huge part of our game,” Hice said. “We shoot probably 75 to 100 free throws after every single practice. And as much as we hate it sometimes, it’s paid off and helped us a lot throughout the season.”
As good as Hice was at the line, on the floor, the day belonged to Macie Graves.
She was aggressive out of the gates, took her shots with confidence and her teammates had no problem continuing to give her the ball.
The junior forward finished with a game-high 18 points, 11 of which came in the first half, and six rebounds.
“I sort of started the offense early for us, and I think that allowed everyone else to find their rhythm,” Graves said. “It gave us all confidence that we could compete and possibly pull off the win.”
Graves jumpstarted the Panthers by converting a pair of triples, followed by a bucket from Cidney Huff that put SE ahead 8-2.
Fairland’s Emma Marshall later buried a 3-pointer, only for Huff to turn right around and hit a shot to beat the buzzer, putting SE ahead 13-6 after one.
The Panthers then had problems with ball-handling, committing 10 turnovers in the first hall. But the Dragons shot just 4-of-31 and 2-of-15 from distance.
“We knew Fairland loved to shoot the 3-ball, so for us defensively, that was our main focus,” Hice said. “There are times we haven’t been the best team at defending the 3-ball, but I feel like we stepped it up this time.”
Meanwhile, Graves and Hice combined to score 11 of the Panthers’ 15 second quarter points as the lead was pushed up to double digits at halftime, 28-15.
The lead remained in double digits for the rest of the game as the Panthers converted free throws at every turn and out-rebounded the Dragons by a 30-22 margin to win a sectional crown.
“This was a physical game, but that’s sort of just how we play,” Hice said. “Tournament play is very different, the refs just let you play and beat each other up a little more, so we took advantage of that.”
Additionally, to Hice and Graves’ outings, Huff finished with 12 points and four rebounds.
Southeastern advances to a Division III district semifinal against Oak Hill at 8 p.m., Thursday at Waverly’s Downtown Gym.
Fairland: 12-54 FG, 9-11 FT, 4-26 3pt., 22 rebounds, 10 turnovers, 5 assists.
Southeastern: 13-32 FG, 22-25 FT, 3-8 3pt., 30 rebounds (Hice, Bailes 7), 16 turnovers, 6 assists. Scoring: Graves 18, Hice 15, Huff 12, Skeens 4, Mitten 3, Bailes 2.