Jacksonville, NC | March 6, 2013
Lejeune had a Major advantage Tuesday night.
Chatori Major, a senior guard, poured in 36 points to go along with 9 steals to help lead the Devilpups to a 56-47 victory over East Columbus in the NCHSAA 1-A East Regional girls' basketball semifinals at Crown Arena.
"It feels great. I'm proud of the girls. I'm thrilled," Lejeune first-year coach Kevin Popadines said. "To make it this far was an honor, and now to keep moving on is even better, especially with as close as it (the state final) is now. No need to stop. We're just going to keep going."
Top-seeded Lejeune (26-0) advances to take on second-seeded River Mill Academy (27-3) on Saturday at noon at the Crown Arena in the regional final, with the winner advancing to the state championship game next week in Raleigh.
Behind 27 points and 10 rebounds from Daijah Faucette in the earlier regional semifinal, the Jaguars held on for a 64-59 win over top-seeded Riverside-Martin (28-2).
"We're going to have our work cut out for us, but we're playing well right now and I don't see any reason why we can't take it to them," Popadines said.
While Major was the headline, the Devilpups likely would not have won had it not been for the play inside of 5-8 senior Chryssandra Tatum, who held 6-foot Lauren Jenkins in check. That, in turn, kept the Gators (20-6) from being about to run their deliberate, half-court attack that begins with funneling the ball down low.
Jenkins hit just 5 of 12 field goals to finish with 13 points along with 12 rebounds.
"We wanted to make sure Chryssandra did a good job one on one with her, and our point guard got a little bit of pressure on their point guard and didn't make those passes so easy for her," Popadines said. "So I think we did what we wanted to set out to do and that freed up (Chatori) to kind of ball hawk a little bit and get ready for those transition baskets and get out and run."
Tatum said she played a bit of a mind game with herself in preparing for Jenkins.
"I told myself she could dunk," said Tatum, who had 10 rebounds along with 8 points. "It was a joke. So it made us play harder, I guess. But I don't stress about too much stuff. I just knew she was going to be bigger. So you had to play harder."
East Columbus coach Troy Snowden was surprised at his club's problems on offense, which saw the Gators commit an out of character 15 first-half turnovers. They finished with 20 to Lejeune's 21.
East Columbus also hit just 29.3 percent (17 of 58) from the floor.
"We weren't able to run our offense effectively like we've been able to do all season, and you've got to attribute it to the defense that Lejeune played on us," Snowden said. "I was very surprised. Our inside presence that leads our balanced attack was not effective tonight as it has been."
But Major was for the Devilpups.
Despite picking up her third foul late in the second quarter, Major didn't change her game.
The speedy and elusive Major, who's already signed with UNC-Asheville and averaged 31 points in her first three playoff games, scored 19 in the second half, repeatedly racing from one end to the other for layups to help the Devilpups hold off the Gators.
"That's what she's done all season," Snowden said. "So no big surprise there."
Major said she was a "little concerned" with the three fouls, but not enough to keep her from going 6-for-6 from the floor in the final half and finish 14 of 22 along with 8 of 9 from the foul line.
The Gators led by as many as five early on, but the Devilpups took the lead for good on a bucket by Amber Overton with 2:45 left in the first half to start a 10-2 run that gave Lejeune a 25-17 lead in the final seconds of the first half.
East Columbus closed within 33-30 on a layup by Jenkins with 2:22 left in the third quarter, but Major scored six straight points to give the Devilpups a 39-30 advantage with 43 seconds left in the third quarter. The Gators never got closer than four after that as the Devilpups pushed their lead to as many as 12 in the final minutes.
"It feels really good," Major said. "But I know our next game is going to be a tough one."
NOTES: Lejeune won despite being without one of its key players, LaLa Lee, who was sick. Popadines said he hoped the 5-11 sophomore center would be ready for Saturday's regional final. … Lejeune shot 44.9 percent (22 of 49) for the game.