Watkins comes up big for Andrews
With a look of determination, T. Wingate Andrews senior guard Imani Watkins kept attacking.
Facing a seven-point deficit entering the fourth quarter against heavily-favored Bandys, Watkins kept trying to crack the Trojans zone defense by either driving into the teeth of it for an open shot or to get fouled. At other times, she shot 3s over it.
She went 4 of 4 from the field, including 2 of 2 from behind the arc and went 5 of 6 from the free throw line as she scored 15 points in the final quarter to lead the Raiders to the state 2A championship.
“In the fourth quarter, I knew this was my last game (for Andrews), my last eight minutes,” Watkins said as she held the game’s Most Valuable Player award while standing in a hallway at Reynolds Coliseum. “And I wasn’t going to lose in my last eight minutes.”
The championship ended a four-year quest for Watkins, who has signed to play beginning next year at Binghampton University. Coming into Saturday’s game, she led the Red Raiders in scoring with a 12.8 points per game average, in assists with 40 and steals with 32.
“I’ve spent countless hours in the gym,” Watkins said. “I bug people trying to get them to come to the gym with me. But my mental game has come so far. That helped me become the player that I am. Anyone can be talented but it takes a ball player’s mentality and a winning mentality. My mentality has grown and I’ve become a student of the game.”
The Red Raiders, who also featured senior starters Brie Grier, October Campbell and Shamisha Farabee, began targeting the school’s first girls state basketball title last summer, Watkins said.
After five losses in their first 11 games, they went unbeaten in 18 straight games.
“That was our goal in the summertime and we never lost sight of the big picture,” Watkins said. “But, those five losses were because we were looking too much at the big picture and not taking things one game at a time. Going into conference play and going to the first game of the state playoff, we had one mindset and that was to win the state championship. But before we could win a state championship, we had to go out and win each game.”
The Red Raiders topped Kitty Hawk First Flight, Clinton, Northside, Kinston, Redisville and the previously unbeaten Trojans in the state playoffs, rallying from double-digit deficits against Kinston and Bandys.
“Clinton (a 79-51 win in the second game of the playoffs) was a heck of a game and Kinston was a heck of a game, and I think that got us ready when we got behind (Bandys),” Watkins said. “Our preparation helped us win (the championship). We had one of our hardest practices ever on Thursday. Now it all makes sense.”
The preparation helped the Raiders dominate the fourth quarter as they outscored Bandys 20-7. Their trapping pressure defense at times overwhelmed the Trojans’ point guard and top scorer on the season Madi Story, who managed just five points and committed seven turnovers against three assists.
“The five guys on our practice team, we know there is not a female basketball team out there that can compare to those five guys,” Watkins said. “If we can penetrate the defense against our five guys, it should be easy out here. Bandys is a great team and they played a great game.
“I’m proud of myself and my teammates. They put their trust in me and I’m going to deliver. That’s what I want to do for them.”