McLeod lifts RFA over Liverpool in girls hoops showdown
ROME — The two future Division I college players on the court Tuesday night led their teams in scoring, but it was Rome Free Academy's Amya McLeod who hit a game-tying shot with half a second left in regulation then went off for 11 in overtime as the Black Knights defeated Liverpool at home 68-64.
"What a great game. That's the way we thought it would go," said RFA head coach Al Bevilacqua after the win. The teams pushed the pace all game in front of "a great crowd," he noted.
RFA scored the first eight points in the game but the Liverpool defense clamped down until the Warriors had tied the game 11-11. They led on the road 29-23 at the break. As Liverpool settled down, RFA went cold, Bevilacqua said. And that, he said, was partially "our fault. We hurt ourselves. We did not do a good job rebounding tonight," and it led to a lot of Liverpool free throws, he added. RFA's frequent long passes were often either intercepted by tall Liverpool defenders or arched too high when they needed to be on a line in order to connect, he noted.
The coach said his halftime message was simple: "There's still two quarters to play so relax and stay in control." Six points is not a big deficit with 16 minutes still left to play, he added.
RFA trimmed the lead to two points by the start of the fourth quarter.
With RFA trailing 54-52, McLeod's drive-and-pass went off a teammate's fingers and out of bounds with 8.2 seconds left in the game. But Liverpool threw away the inbound pass to give the Knights one last chance. McLeod's floater in the lane went down and the teams went off to overtime.
In the extra four minutes, McLeod took over and scored 11 points, one more than Liverpool. RFA also got a big play from junior Alana Jackson with 2:02 left in overtime when she hit a three-pointer that put the Knights up by six and was part of a nine-point run.
"She got better in the second half," Bevilacqua said of McLeod. Part of that, he noted, was that she incorporated her teammates into the game plan more. She scored 14 points through three quarters then 12 in the fourth and 11 in overtime for a game-high 37 points.
RFA sophomore Amiyah Ferebee was also a force in the game, adding 13 points.
McLeod said the game was a lot like last year's game early in the season when RFA won at Liverpool 61-58 after trailing 39-20 at the half. The Knights, she said, knew they had to stop Nevaeh Wingate, the Warriors' forward who will be playing at Division I St. John's University next winter. Wingate led the Warriors with 19 points. Teammate Janea Hamilton-Brown had 10.
McLeod, who will play next at Division I Youngstown State, said the team didn't panic when its shooting went cold in the first half. "Shots won't always fall so you have to play good defense," she said. As the team tried to solve Liverpool's one-three-one zone defense, something RFA hadn't seen, she said she adjusted. She switched from driving to the basket to firing away from three-point range. She made a pair in the game but it was enough, she said, to allow her to return to a more aggressive plan.
With 5:17 left in regulation, McLeod picked up her fourth foul. But she didn't come out of the game. "I told him not to," she said of Bevilacqua. The coach said she has earned that trust as a five-year player. "I have to play smart," she said of the plan the rest of the way. She tried to be more aware of what defenders were trying to do against her.
Liverpool, which plays in the Salt City Athletic Conference, is a top pick to win the Section III Class AA title, McLeod noted, but Tuesday the Knights "wanted to show we can win it."
"Those are two playoff teams that battled hard in the second game of the season," Bevilacqua said.
RFA improves to 2-0 on the season and will play Tri-Valley League opponent Holland Patent on the road at 7 p.m. Friday. The Golden Knights are also 2-0.
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