Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County High junior Keeley Carter leaps along with Covington’s Felia Fayne at the opening tip-off of Wednesday morning’s Class AA State Tournament quarterfinal contest.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County High junior Keeley Carter leaps along with Covington’s Felia Fayne at the opening tip-off of Wednesday morning’s Class AA State Tournament quarterfinal contest.

MURFREESBORO – After missing almost six minutes of the first half, Macon County High junior guard Keeley Carter was uncertain as to whether she’d face the same fate in the third quarter of Wednesday morning’s Class AA State Tournament quarterfinal.

Carter picked up her third foul with 7:05 remaining in the third quarter, but she remained in the game.

The decision paid off as Carter helped the second-ranked Tigerettes gradually pulled away in a 56-38 victory over Covington at Middle Tennessee State University’s Murphy Center.

“I was hoping he didn’t (take me out),” Carter said of head coach Larry White’s decision. “Luckily, he didn’t.”

White said that he didn’t consider pulling Carter at that point.

“When she got her third, I wasn’t going to take her out,” White said. “She makes everybody on our team better.

“I don’t see how she wasn’t one of the three finalists for Miss Basketball. It’s the biggest injustice in this state that’s ever happened.”

Carter added, “I just come out every game ready to play. It doesn’t matter what trophies we get. I’m just looking for the team trophy.”

Carter poured in a game-high 28 points, connecting on 9 of 11 field-goal attempts and 9 of 10 free throws. She scored 12 points over the first six minutes, and Macon County never trailed.

“The past two years here got us prepared to be in this moment,” Carter said. “We’re ready to go get a ring.”

Tigerette sophomore Jalynn Gregory added, “It’s where we’re so used to playing on that court. We come here for (summer) camp and then last year. We know what it’s like to play in big games. We’re just used to it.”

Macon County (31-5) moved on to face fifth-ranked Cheatham County (29-3), which captured a 49-41 victory over Grainger in its quarterfinal contest. That contest tips off at 10 a.m., the same time as Wednesday’s contest.

“We’re used to playing later, at night, at 6 or 7 o’clock,” Shoulders said. “We were a little nervous about playing this early, but I don’t think it hurt us too bad.

“We got up about 7 o’clock. We had to be ready by 7:30 and be in the lobby. We ate Chick-N-Minis from Chick-fil-A. We left the hotel at 8:15 and came here.”

The Tigerettes handed Cheatham County a 75-55 setback in the state quarterfinal round last season. That was the first state experience for both Gregory and Shoulders.

“It was easier for me this time, because I’m not a freshman and it’s not my first time,” Gregory said. “I was still a little nervous. Every game, you have to be a little nervous, or you don’t care.”

Macon County raced out to a 10-2 lead and never saw it dwindle to less than 5 points.

Carter scored 12 of her team’s first 14 points, and she provided the assists on the other basket, a layin by classmate Marah King. She repeatedly found driving lanes to the basket for layins and drew fouls, leading to free-throw opportunities.

“My intention was for them to back off of me,” Carter said. “In warm-ups, I was shooting a lot of threes. They played me up tight. The drive was open. I just took that option.”

Tigerette sophomore McKaylee Mix made a 3-pointer late in the opening period to create an 11-point lead, but Covington responded by producing the next 7 points, with Lady Charger sophomore center Felia Fayne producing two baskets during that stretch. That pulled Covington back to within 4 points.

“We wanted to run inside-out,” Lady Charger head coach Katrisha Glass said. “We knew we had the size advantage. We did that in the first half.

“In the second half, every time we caught it down there, they were doubling (double-teaming Fayne). That’s why it wasn’t effective.”

Fayne finished with a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go along with 3 blocked shots. However, she was limited to 5 points in the second half, connecting on just 2 of 7 field-goal attempts after halftime.

“We were going to double in … whoever’s girl threw it in (to Fayne) was going to double in on (Fayne), and we were going to try to box out,” Gregory said. “In the first half, we didn’t do the best job of rebounding. In the second half, we picked it up.”

Mix was one of the individuals – along with King – who guarded Fayne.

“McKaylee Mix was really, really big for us,” White said. “She defended so well today.”

Carter picked up her second foul and went to the bench for the final 5:48 of the first half.

“We try not to think about it too much,” Shoulders said. “We have to try to keep playing. Keeley is one of our main players and helps set up a lot of other players for shots.

“We had to play a lot of team ball right there. We had to focus in and do what we had to do, each and every one of us.”

Macon County trailed by 6 points when Carter departed, but thanks to contributions from Gregory, Shoulders and junior Jamie Ashburn, the Tigerettes led by 8 points (24-16) at halftime.

“She was pretty good when she was in the game,” White said. “She wasn’t any good sitting over there on the bench. She got in a little foul trouble. I’m proud of my team. When she went out of the game, we were up 6. At halftime, we were up 8. That’s the mark of a good basketball team.

“She had her stuff today. She played really, really well, especially in the second half. I’m proud of her.”

Covington – which had its 18-game winning streak snapped – pulled to within five points when sophomore point guard Kalynn Howard scored 5 consecutive points midway through the third quarter, but Gregory’s layin and two free throws from Carter extended the margin back to 9 points.

“They were good,” Howard said. “They were talented.

“We knew (No.) 10 (Gregory) and 24 (Carter) … we knew who they were.”

Howard entered the contest averaging 18.7 points per game. On Wednesday, she scored 12 of her 15 points in the second half.

“With this girl, I was a little harder,” Shoulders said of Howard. “Usually, I’m used to people more going right or more going left, or they’ll stay outside and shoot the three, or they’ll go in and drive. This girl did a little bit of everything. I had to make sure that I studied on her really hard (in preparation) and know all of the things that she did.”

Gregory added, “In the films we had, she mainly drove to the basket and was shooting jump shots. So, we knew we had to try to keep her there and just kind of stay up close to her, and maybe she couldn’t shoot over us.”

Ashburn’s layin sent Macon County into the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead, and the Tigerettes reeled off the first 11 points of the final period, with Carter scoring 6 of those in addition to Shoulders’ layin and Gregory’s 3-point play.

The Lady Chargers were held without a field goal for the first 6:28 of the fourth quarter.

Covington shot 32 percent from the field.

“Our defense, no doubt about it … we were spot on,” White said. “Our press was really good to us, created turnovers … 38 points … that will win most high-school games. We thought out defense would be critical.

“We did a great job defensively.”

Conversely, Macon County shot 53 percent from the field.

Gregory (8 points), Shoulders (7) and Ashburn (6) backed Carter’s output. Gregory also had 4 assists and 3 steals, and Shoulders came up with 3 steals as well.

The Tigerettes extended their winning streak to 14 games.

The Macon County program improved to 4-3 in its state openers.

Fayne and Howard combined for 33 of the Lady Chargers’ 38 points.

Covington loses just two seniors, neither of which were in the starting lineup.

Macon County girls 56, Covington 38

COVINGTON (38) – Felia Fayne 18, Kalynn Howard 15, Alyssa Gover 3, Kayla Davis 2.

MACON COUNTY (56) – Keeley Carter 28, Jalynn Gregory 8, Abby Shoulders 7, Jamie Ashburn 6, Marah King 4, McKaylee Mix 3.

Half: 24-16, Macon County. Three-point goals: Covington 4 (Howard 3, Gover 1), Macon County 3 (Carter 1, Gregory 1, Shoulders 1). Records: Covington 28-6, Macon County 31-5.