Tucker’s Briana Payne (24) battles under the basket against Deep Run during the first half of Conference 11 final at Glen Allen High School in Henrico County VA Fri. Feb. 17, 2017.

Michaiah Walker dropped a game-high 18 points and Briana Payne scored 17 as host J.R. Tucker downed the Maggie Walker Governor’s School 54-41 on Thursday night.

The Tigers (13-6) set the tone on the first possession as Walker drove the lane directly after the tip before the Dragons could get set on defense. Daysha Goodlet followed up on Tucker’s next possession with an aggressive drive and layup of her own, and the Tigers were off and running in a game the Dragons never led.

The Dragons clawed back to tie the game at 6-6 after a pair of smooth baseline drives from Ge’Shanti Atkins and a put-back from Sarah Larkin. Atkins finished with 13 points, and Larkin added 10. The duo kept Maggie Walker within shouting distance of Tucker most of the evening.

Although Payne finished with 17, Maggie Walker (15-4) found some success by double-teaming her and denying entry passes in the post. But coach Speedy Baughman said her ability outlasted his strategy.

“She’s a tremendous player, really a nice kid. She plays super hard, I knew she’d be a handful,” Baughman said. “We went into the game trying to front her and keep her from getting the ball. Unfortunately, when you front her, there’s nobody there on the backside so she has space to get rebounds.”

Tucker coach Mollie Pawlowski said the Dragons’ game plan against Payne forced her to make an adjustment to her star center’s positioning.

“We’re lucky because she’s pretty flexible, so we moved her out to the wing and that helped,” Pawlowski said. “She’s a good big, she’s a presence down there, but it’s also easy to double her in the paint.”

Maggie Walker hung around throughout the first half behind Atkins and Larkin, as well as a strong defensive showing from guard Emma Ragone, who disrupted Tucker’s backcourt the whole night. Tucker led 23-16 at halftime.

The Tigers stomped on the gas pedal to open the third period. After Larkin scored to cut the deficit to just 5, Tucker scored 15 unanswered points.

Jasmine Lee scored 6 of her 8 points during the run, as the attention paid to Payne freed her fellow forward down low. The Tigers also procured four steals during the run. Pawlowski said her team came out of the locker room with a different mindset.

“Intensity, picking up the tempo, controlling the speed of the game,” Pawlowski said. “We had to pick up the intensity, our defense had to create some offense.”

Walker scored 11 of her 18 points in the second half, all on drives to the basket or from the free throw line. She said she focused on attacking the paint and getting to the free throw line.

“I’m just proud of my team for pulling out the win,” Walker said.

Payne played most of the second half on the perimeter and opened the fourth quarter with a 3 to push Tucker’s lead to 18.

The closest Maggie Walker could get the deficit to was 13, as Tucker answered every run the Dragons made with relative ease behind Payne and Walker. Payne eventually fouled out with a minute to play, but it was too little, too late.

“They’re a great team, I thought we played well and I’m proud of my girls,” Baughman said.

MAGGIE WALKER GS (15-4) — Emma Ragone 6, Sarah Larkin 10, Ge’Shanti Atkins 13, Annabel Tripodi 6, Lisa Qin 2, Kaitlyn Campbell 3. Totals: 14 13-27 41.

J.R. TUCKER (13-6) — Daysha Goodlet 4, Michaiah Walker 18, Briana Payne 17, Jasmine Lee 12, Canisha Robinson 3. Totals: 22 7-13 54.

Maggie Walker GS 9 7 9 16 — 41

J.R. Tucker 13 10 17 14 — 54

3-point goals: JRT: Robinson, Walker, Payne.

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