By Josh Sigler
Warsaw — Just before the tipoff of Saturday’s Class 2A North Semistate game against Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Eastern girls basketball coach Jeremy Dexter turned to his assistants and said “What if Brittany [Neeley] does something crazy like score 50?”
In Dexter’s own words: “She darn near did.”
The senior put forth a performance for the ages, pouring in 48 points to lift the Comets to their first semistate championship in a 74-55 rout of Luers, preventing the Knights from making their fourth straight appearance in the state finals.
“Trust me, I didn’t foresee that she had some advantage to score 50 points,” Dexter said. “You can’t foresee something like that, but Brittany is a great leader. She’s not a true point guard. She’s a scorer. She showed that [Saturday] obviously, but she’s a kid who is a runner who has turned herself into basketball player. I don’t profess stuff or push stuff on anybody, but there’s no question that there should be some attention looking at for her as an Indiana All-Star. She ought to be in the running for that with this performance.”
Neeley’s 48-point explosion tied a Howard County single-game record for girls basketball. Taylor’s Myndie Vaughn (Everling) scored 48 points in a game against Tipton during the 1994-95 season to set the mark Neeley matched Saturday.
For good measure, the 5-foot-6 guard grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds and hit 19 of 21 attempts from the free throw line.
“I was just speechless,” Neeley said. “Seeing myself going over 40 points was pretty neat, but I just wanted to win the game. Twenty rebounds – I don’t know how I got those numbers. I’m lucky to get half of those numbers in a normal game. It hasn’t hit me yet. Just as long as we got the win is all that matters. We were going to find a way no matter what.”
Brittany and sister Bethany both inked their letters of intent this week to run track and cross country at Indiana University.
Bethany, the more accomplished runner of the two, was elated to see her twin sister grab the spotlight Saturday when, in most cases, the spotlight is squarely on her.
“I’m really glad she’s the star in this sport,” Bethany said. “That’s how it’s deserved to be. She’s worked so hard on her shot over the years. This game has been waiting on her to come. She’s played amazing basketball in the tournament. She’s carrying our team right now.”
The magnitude of Brittany’s performance didn’t even register in the minds of the starters until they exited to a raucous ovation leading by 20 with under a minute to play.
“As soon as I got taken out of the game, I said to Taylor [Holliday] ‘Brittany is taking us to Terre Haute,’” Bethany said. “I’m just so proud of her. She’s worked so hard in the gym. She lit it up [Saturday].”
Brittany Neeley torched Luers for 36 points in the second half, scoring 19 in the fourth, leading a Comets offense that thrashed the Knights’ transition defense with bucket after bucket in the second half.
“We tried everything,” Luers coach Denny Renier said. “We tried a box-and-one. We tried to deny her the ball. We just did a poor job of moving our feet when she was driving and taking charges, getting in position to stop her. She is so good at slithering through the smallest crack. She did a great job, we didn’t do a very good job – the combination of it was a fantastic game by her. I went over to her after the game and congratulated her. I said ‘Man, what a performance you put on.’
With a double-digit advantage throughout most of the second half, Dexter toyed with the idea of slowing the tempo of the game to protect the lead with a berth in the state finals on the line. Unaware at the time of Neeley’s potential milestone, Dexter was glad to have let the flow of the game proceed as it was.
“I didn’t look up at the scoreboard until she already had 20 points early, and I went away from it mentally,” Dexter said. “From a coaching perspective, you have a lead, and you wonder about when you should start taking the air out of the ball. She was getting to the basket and finishing, and they were having to chase us around. It’s hard to contain our guards, so it’s hard to go tell them they can’t shoot layups. You finish it and be aggressive.
“She’s just a winner.”
Brittany had no doubt where Saturday’s accomplishment ranked among her favorites in what’s been an already storied prep athletic career. She was also quick to share the credit.
“This is by far my greatest basketball accomplishment,” Brittany said. “My 1,000th point earlier in the year and now this – this could be the greatest accomplishment of my high school career. I think my coach deserves this as much as anyone. I was doing this for him. He’s worked so hard.”