Excel opened with a 16-5 lead, then widened it to 27-9 by the game’s mid-way point. LaFayette closed to 34-21 after three frames and then Excel dropped in just enough points to take a 45-39 victory Tuesday night at their home.
Emily Willingham scored 22 points for the Lady Eagles and Andrea Taylor sank 14 points.
“LaFayette definitely won the first half of the third quarter. They played better as I knew they would,” coach Michael Roberson said. “We were just real fortunate. The girls did what they needed to do there in the fourth quarter to make enough plays to secure the win.”
Excel had muscled its way out to a 27-12 lead at halftime, looking like a team both determined and expecting to win its third game of the season.
That quickly changed in the third quarter when LaFayette opened up with full-court pressure and forced two quick turnovers — out of seven for the period — from the Lady Eagles. The Lady Ramblers buried three treys and an 18-point lead suddenly was reduced to 10 points — minus one because of a single foul shot made by Excel — with just three minutes and a half gone from the period.
LaFayette squeezed another bucket closer — to 28-20 — when Taylor answered with two buckets and Willingham dropped in a third one and the two teams closed the period with 34-21 reading on the scoreboard.
The Lady Ramblers kept the pressure on — literally — in the final period and forced nine turnovers, but Excel answered with a bucket by Abby Keefe that kissed the backboard on its way into net and nine points by Willingham that kept the Lady Eagles on the plus side of the scoreboard.
“On paper that’s probably one we shouldn’t win,” he said. “But we’ll take it. We played well in the first half and we played well enough in the second half to hold on to it.”
He credited the play of Taylor, who drew the brunt of double teams and triple teams from the Lady Ramblers.
“She can play. She’s a player and she’s just a sophomore,” he said.
Roberson said Willingham did her job and that helped Excel notch the victory.
“She made shots that she’s supposed to make. That’s been the thing. She made two big ones for us at the end of the game for us,” he added.
He said the Lady Eagles expected the pressure.
“I knew LaFayette would come out in the second half and play better. I knew they’d turn up their intensity,” he said. “We didn’t match it for a while. They hit some 3s and they began to press. That hurt us.”
He said Excel responded by focusing on the little things.
“I just preached to them the fundamentals, be strong with the ball. Make plays. Do things you’re coached to do.
“We had some steals, some double teams where we got the ball and that allowed us to get a couple of easy buckets.”
Excel coaxed six turnovers from LaFayette in the third quarter.
Excel improved to 3-5. LaFayette dropped to 1-4 overall. Excel next plays Rockmart on Friday. Tipoff is at 6 p.m.