The Tompkins girls basketball team’s 57-42 Class 6A area round playoff win over Memorial on Saturday at the Merrell Center meant more than the typical postseason ‘W.’
The Tompkins girls basketball team’s 57-42 Class 6A area round playoff win over Memorial on Saturday at the Merrell Center meant more than the typical early postseason ‘W.’
One, it erased the bitter taste from last year’s area playoff defeat to Cy-Fair. Two, it sent the Falcons to the regional quarterfinals for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
“It was definitely (about) getting the area round off our back. Last year was crushing,” coach Tamatha Ray said of the two-point setback to the Bobcats. “These kids were on a mission, and those four returners learned from last year about how to manage a game. We held it together.”
Those four returners are seniors Crystal Smith and Kenzie Durnford, and sophomores Loghan Johnson and Fiyin Adeleye. In their own ways, they made sure a repeat of last season didn't happen.
Smith, recently named a McDonald’s All-American nominee, set the tone with 10 first-quarter points early. She did so in a variety of manners, including a pair of short fadeaway soft jumpers that drew appreciation from the crowd.
“I just wanted the win,” said Smith, who finished with a game-high 16 points and four steals. “This game meant a lot, not just for this team but the team last year that lost in this round. There was pressure to get past this round, but pressure gets me going and makes me dig in even more.”
Durnford had six points and five rebounds. Johnson contributed 10 timely points and snared a game-high eight rebounds. Adeleye had a huge third quarter, scoring five crucial points to keep Memorial at bay when the Mustangs threatened to make a game of it with a trio of 3-pointers.
Even those who weren’t on varsity last year, like senior forward Ashley Ngene, made their impact felt because they understood the significance of the game. Ngene was impressive off the bench with 11 points, six rebounds and three blocks.
“We were ready to make a statement,” Ngene said. “We got out way too early last year and we didn’t want to repeat that tragic loss. We wanted to start hot, stay hot and come away with the win.”
Defensively, the Falcons were once again relentless. They forced 18 turnovers and held a perimeter-oriented Memorial team to just 4-for-21 shooting from 3-point range. Tompkins made a concerted effort to push Memorial’s shooters off the 3-point line and to their weak hand.
“Memorial is very efficient,” Ngene said. “They’re a very good shooting team, so we had to get up above the 3-point line and get in their face.”
Tompkins, ranked No. 14 in Class 6A in the state, improved to 19-3 and will play undefeated Dulles in the third round. A win would put Tompkins in the regional semifinals for just the second time in program history.
The Falcons’ success this season is already a considerable turnaround from just two seasons ago.
After her sophomore season, Smith wrote “#FalconCulture” on a whiteboard in the team’s locker room in her usual small handwriting. Tompkins had missed the postseason and finished 5-7 in district play.
The message intrigued Ray.
“I walked in and was like, ‘Oh, OK. Let’s talk about that.’ She didn’t even know what our culture is or was,” Ray said. ‘Her freshman year and sophomore year, leadership wasn’t good. Those were good kids, but not leaders. It was still a new school at that time. But she saw it. Culture.”
Along with Durnford, who, like Smith, has played varsity since her freshman year, Smith helped cultivate a new standard for the program. A new way of doing things that has produced substantial success that not even she saw coming.
“Did I think it would become what it is now? No,” Smith said. “I honestly was just writing because I felt we needed accountability and to take responsibility for our teammates and being energized at practice even when we’re tired and drained. Just being together. I feel we’re making a good example for the younger girls because we’re bought into coach, we’re bought into each other and it’s not just a one-man show. We’re bought in as a team.”