MURFREESBORO, Tenn., – The state of Tennessee is a hotbed of girls basketball talent and the ‘Boro is at the heart of it all. Three of the top ten teams in the state reside along I- 24 in Murfreesboro. We checked in at Blackman High School as they battled Riverdale in a late January match-up. Here are the major story lines to follow from Rutherford County headed into the postseason.
1. Blackman is the Favorite to Repeat as State Champions
It is not going out too far on a limb to make this prediction when coach Chad Hibdon’s starting five is littered with future Division One basketball players. However, what impressed us in this game was how the Lady Blaze were able to overcome a rocky start to run away with a double digit win. Riverdale raced out to an 11-0 lead to begin the game, but the poise and leadership of senior wing Meme Jackson and junior point guard Crystal Dangerfield ended the bleeding quickly. This proves that Blackman can win games even when things are not going well, which is bound to happen in the post season.
2. Crystal Dangerfield: On Time, Every Time
Rarely does the top point guard in the class of 2016 disappoint. In fact in the moments which are biggest, the UConn commit delivers in the biggest ways. Friday night was no different as she saw her team down double digits on their home floor before the midway point of the first quarter. The 5-foot-6 guard dialed up the heat and turned defensive steals into transition points. The Lady Blaze erased the Riverdale lead mostly behind the buckets of Dangerfield. In the end she would lead all scorers with 21 points, but it would be her unfettered attitude that kept her teammates in the game.
3. Johnson and Jackson Play Their Roles Well
With so much attention put upon Dangerfield, there has to be a balance in order for a team to be effective at a championship level. We have documented class of 2015 Alex Johnson as being the ideal front-line forward over the years. Her willingness to rebound, defend and score around the bucket give the Lady Blaze great balance on both ends of the floor. The future MTSU Blue Raider scored many of her 18 points in the final period as Dangerfield found her under the bucket consistently. Jackson on the other hand brings energy and timely scoring for this team’s success. The future Lady Vol hit 3-point jumpers in the first half which were key in turning the momentum. Her defensive presence was evident in the second half as well.
4. Anastasia Hayes Proved She is NEXT UP on the Big Stage
The class of 2017 point guard went toe to toe with the aforementioned Dangerfield and more than held her own for a better part of a half. Scoring a team high 19 points, Hayes showed she is ready to play on the country’s largest stages. With Ole Miss assistant coaches Alex Simmons and Brittany Hudson watching, Hayes made tough shots and showed the savvy that will be needed to play at a school within one of the five Power Conferences after her graduation.
5. Coach Barrett Invests in the Future
Some of the mistakes that the Warriors made in their loss to the Lady Blaze could be attributed to youth or inexperience. That is something that coach Barrett has openly talked about as part of the process for this year. After losing McDonald’s All-American Alexa Middleton to graduation, there was no doubt that this season would be a challenge. However, the Warriors have doubled down in two freshman in the hopes that the return will be huge in years to come. Forwards Brinae Alexander and Alexis Whittington started and contributed to the tune of 17 and 15 points respectively in this game. Both players have their best days of basketball still in front of them.
Jonathan Hemingway is a National Evaluator for the OTRHoopsReport. Hemingway serves on the Board of Selectors for the Naismith Trophy. also He is also the publisher of CoachHemi.com. He has been involved in the community since 1996 as a coach, camp director and evaluator. You can reach him via email at JonathanHemingway@PeachStateBasketball.com and follow him on twitter @JLHemingwayPSB