FAYETTEVILLE — The Apex girls basketball team had just 20 minutes to get off the bus and into the first quarter of the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
The several detours and road construction near Fayetteville’s Fort Bragg area were the main culprit.
The Cougars rushed to get in and out of the locker room and take a few shots, but rushing during the first half was too much to overcome in its 49-44 loss to E.E. Smith.
The 11-seed Cougars (20-5) struggled to keep the pace with the host No. 6 Golden Bulls (20-5).
“We dug a huge hole and it was hard to come out of... We've always struggled with tremendous pressure and athleticism," Apex coach Jay Huffman said. "We played with a little more confidence and a little more speed (in the second half)."
Apex fell behind 31-15 at halftime, then opened up the second half with new resolve.
A 9-0 run to open the third quarter made it a new ball game. Apex chiseled the lead to just four points with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but it never got any closer.
It was an important year for Apex, which hit the 20-win mark and beat some conference teams it hadn’t in more than four seasons.
“It’s been a long journey, to start with these seniors three years ago and go 7-16 – and somehow make the playoffs,” Huffman said. “They stuck by me and the program and I really appreciate that from them.”
Senior Aliya Ruffin had 16 points in the loss while junior Tiffany Finley had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps