Julia Wilkinson couldn’t find the bottom of the net in the first half. Her Wantagh girls basketball teammates really couldn’t either.
“It’s a game of streaks, and we weren’t on a good one,” Wilkinson said.
Luckily for the Warriors, Wilkinson persisted and fueled a dramatic comeback from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Wilkinson scored 18 of her 22 points after halftime and made 4 of 4 free throws in the final 31.5 seconds of the game, leading Wantagh to a 55-49 win over host North Shore in a Nassau Conference A-IV game on Thursday.
Wilkinson scored Wantagh’s last seven points, three of which came on a three-point play for a 51-47 lead with 41.5 seconds left. The junior guard split a pair of free throws with 23.2 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, tied at 39.
“I was fired up. I was mad,” Wilkinson said. “I had a really, really poor first half, and I knew I had to do something about it if we wanted to win.”
North Shore led 45-44 in overtime after Gabriella Scott (16 points) made a pair of free throws, but Caitlin Albanese gave Wantagh (5-0) the lead for good on the next possession. The senior drove left and scooped in a lay-in off the glass with her right hand for a 46-45 lead.
Morgan Flaherty (11 points) then stole the inbounds pass and scored for a 48-45 advantage with 1:41 to play.
“I was looking at her eyes,” Flaherty said. “We knew that if we made the steal, that would help us get ahead.”
“Caitlin made a great play, then Morgan made an even better play,” Wilkinson said. “I think that was really the turning point, momentum-wise.”
North led 36-25 after Scott’s bucket in the paint with 7:12 left in regulation. Down 37-27 after Eleanor Casale’s free throw for North Shore (4-1) with 6:04 left in regulation, Wantagh rallied.
Wilkinson had five points and Flaherty had four in a 9-0 run spanning two-and-a-half minutes that cut the deficit to 37-36. Scott made a layup for the Vikings before the Warriors scored the last three points of the quarter, forcing the extra period.
“You have to keep plugging away,” Wantagh coach Stan Bujacich said. “Our defense always gets us our offense when we need it.”
Wilkinson led the charge after a first half in which she had open looks but couldn’t convert. Wantagh assistant coach Erin Colton said she doesn’t need to do much coaching with Wilkinson.
“It’s almost mechanical for her,” Colton said. “She knows exactly what to do to win the game.