LARGO – Bowie High School guards Ahna Thomas and Jaidyn McCullough having been playing basketball together for more than a decade, and their chemistry showed in the girls basketball season opener at Largo High School.
The two unleashed a second-half scoring barrage to help the Bulldogs start their season off on a high note.
Thomas scored 18 of her game-high 24 points in the second half and added five rebounds, three assists and two steals. Meanwhile, McCullough contributed with 14 points, six boards and seven assists as the duo propelled Bowie to a resilient double-digit comeback win, 52-46, over the Lions on Dec. 5.
After entering the locker room with a 30-20 deficit at the half, Bowie second-year Head Coach Charles Alston said he advised his team to play calm and poised, and to let the game come to them. He also had a few words of advice for Thomas.
“I told Ahna, I said ‘listen Ahna, once you get going everybody else will get going,’” Alston said. “When we get going, it’s tough to beat.”
Thomas, a 5-foot-9 junior, is a transfer from New Hope Academy who is quickly getting to know her new teammates.
“It took heart and it took some passion. We had to be really strong with the ball, Largo is a really tough team but luckily we were able to overcome the adversities and just continue to play as a team and as one,” Thomas said of the comeback rally.
“I think it’s a big win because not only did we play at Largo’s house, but the energy that they came with and the fact that we were able to overcome with that energy; and I think our fan base, our team – we came together as one and as family and that helped us push to that win.”
She and McCollough have played ball together since they were toddlers, said Thomas, and the two feed off of each other’s momentum.
“Jaidyn, No. 1, she definitely helps to push my momentum as the same way I do for her. We kind of work hand-in-hand with each other,” Thomas said. “We’ve been playing with each other since we were 5 years old so we just feed off of each other and it’s just good energy all out.”
Early on, Largo guard Alexia Hackett used her speed to get steals, breakaway layups and create scoring opportunities for her teammates as the Lions sprinted out to a 17-9 lead after the first quarter.
Additionally, guard Vanessa Schwarzmann got Largo going with some long-range jumpers to keep the Lions ahead throughout the second quarter. Also, with McCullough in early foul trouble for Bowie she had to sit for most of the first half, which took away a key threat for Largo.
At halftime, Largo had built a 10-point lead, but the Bulldogs used new momentum in the second half to jump out to a 10-0 scoring run to open the third. Thomas’ 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the evening, 33-32, toward the bottom of the quarter.
Approaching the fourth quarter, Bowie outscored Largo 19-7 to take a 39-37 advantage. The Bulldogs shifted defenses multiple times to thwart the Lions’ quick-striking offense.
Bowie relied on the leadership of McCullough after Thomas fouled out with about three minutes remaining in the game. Though one of its standouts had to sit for the most crucial moments of the game, Bowie managed to stay in control, also getting timely free-throw shooting from Reignah Johnson.
With 18 seconds left, the Lions reduced a seven-point deficit to 49-46. On the Bulldogs’ next possession, Johnson was fouled nailed two free throws to make it a two-possession game, sealing the win for Bowie (1-0).
“I think we came out with a lot of energy in the first half. In the second half, we got comfortable, and when they got comfortable they let their guard down,” Largo Head Coach Ayana Ball-Ward said. “No. 1 and No. 3 (McCullough and Thomas) from Bowie, they did what they were supposed to do. They attacked the basket, they made shots and they were the best people on the floor.”
Largo (0-1) outrebounded Bowie 34-33, but the Bulldogs recorded 11 assists to the Lions’ nine. Ball-Ward emphasized not staying comfortable and sticking to the game plan in a post-game message to her girls.
“I think the kids just went away from what was working in the first half,” Ball-Ward said. “They went away from what worked so when we went to the second half, they wanted to do it their way and not was written up so the results ended up the way it did.”
Hackett tallied 14 points, five rebounds, four assists and five steals, while forward Taylor Lewis chipped in with eight points and 11 boards. Schwarzmann, who led the Lions with 19 points, including five 3-pointers, agreed with her coach about complacency on defense.
“Defensively, we got comfortable. And then offensively, like, we were just rushing on offense,” Schwarzmann said. “We have to get stronger on defense and rotate, make sure everyone knows where they are going.”