It was either a hunch or one of the best halftime pep talks ever given.
Either way, Legacy girls basketball coach Tiffany Richardson convinced junior wing Tori Payne that she was about to have her best half of the season.
It might not have been Payne’s best, but it was awfully close.
After scoring two points on nine first-half shots Friday, Payne tallied 17 points and six rebounds in the final 16 minutes to help the Longhorns to a 54-44 win at Faith Lutheran.
“I told her at halftime that this was going to be her best half of the season,” Richardson said. “She just needed to settle down and do what we did in practice (Thursday).
“I trust her, and she came through for us.”
Payne and the Longhorns (13-10, 8-3 Northwest League) looked out of sorts for most of the first half, falling behind 20-12 before scoring the final eight points of the half — all from in the paint — to tie the game at halftime.
Legacy had just two baskets from in the key until the half-closing run.
“My girls, if we’re not successful going into the post the first couple of times, sometimes we stop doing it,” Richardson said. “I keep telling them that if they go inside, it will open up shots for everyone.”
The Longhorns regressed a bit in the third quarter, committing 10 fouls and allowing the Crusaders (10-10, 7-4) to stay in the game from the free-throw line. Faith Lutheran made only 5 of 22 shots from the field in the second half but sank 14 of 20 free throws.
Payne’s second-chance shot from the paint with 5:11 to go in the fourth quarter put Legacy ahead for good at 39-37. Payne had 10 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter and made all four of her free-throw attempts.
Deja Brown then drove a dagger through the Crusaders’ hearts with a three-point play off a 17-foot jumper that gave Legacy a 46-42 lead with 1:57 remaining.
Faith Lutheran never got any closer.
Leilani White came off the bench to score 10 points, and LaNeisha Jackson grabbed 10 rebounds for Legacy, which held onto a share of second place in the Northwest even after coming off a 45-point loss to league-leading Centennial on Wednesday.
“You can’t compound that loss,” Richardson said. “You just have to shake it off. I think we were a little nervous early, and when we were down eight, this easily could have gone the other way, but they settled down.”
Kelsey McCourt paced the Crusaders with 15 points, and Samantha Leonard added 10 points and nine rebounds for Faith Lutheran.