PUNTA GORDA — D’Yanis Jimenez had plenty of reasons to be proud in a two-point loss to the IMG Academy girls basketball team on Tuesday night.
Fresh off scoring the 1,000th point of her career during a tournament in Atlanta this past weekend, the junior guard scored 18 points while also giving Arizona commit Kailyn Gilbert a challenge on defense.
However, Charlotte (8-7) couldn’t withstand a late rally by the Ascenders (8-6), finally succumbing on a shooting foul on Gilbert with under four seconds to play in a 58-56 loss at Charlotte High School.
Foremost on Jimenez’s mind was how she might have been at fault for the outcome.
“I feel like we could have won that. I had like eight missed free-throws,” said Jimenez, who made 4-of-9 free-throw attempts. “I think that’s one of the main reasons we lost. Free-throws are the easiest shots you can take.”
Though Jimenez left five potential points on the floor, the junior made up for it with her play. She scored points in every quarter as she paced the offense — scoring via layups, a floater, a fake-pass 3-pointer, a step-back 3-pointer, breakaways off steals and free-throws.
Defensively, the junior held Gilbert to 13 points and finished with three steals while also forcing the future Wildcat to the bench at times due to foul trouble.
“She played a complete game tonight,” Charlotte coach Matt Stephenson said of Jimenez. “Her defense was on-point. She did what she had to do on the assignment we had for her. They all played great defense against a really good team. That’s what kept us in that game.”
When Jimenez wasn’t scoring, it seemed as if Kristen Lowers couldn’t miss.
The senior forward scored a team-high 21 points, including four three-pointers and some clutch buckets down the stretch to keep Charlotte within striking distance.
However, neither Lowers nor her teammates could find that same success stopping Ascenders 6-foot-3 senior forward Grace Van Slooten.
“I’ve always taken pride in my defense, and that’s what I do for this team,” said the 5-foot-9 Lowers, who added six rebounds and three steals. “It’s tough, definitely, but just putting pressure on players like that can throw them off because they’re not used to it.”
The Oregon commit nearly out-rebounded Charlotte by herself, grabbing 15 rebounds — including four put-back layups — as she led a late rally. Trailing the Tarpons, 41-36, to open the final quarter, Van Slooten scored a quick seven points to bring the Ascenders back.
She added five more points down the stretch to finish with a game-high 28 points.
“She’s a talented player, and she gave us fits the first time we played them,” Stephenson said of Van Slooten, who led the Ascenders to a 69-40 win over Charlotte in the season opener on Nov. 17. “Collectively, we did the best we could keeping her off the boards. Between guarding her and (Gilbert), we did what we could to come out with a win.”
Despite the late charge by IMG, the Tarpons still had a chance to win until the final buzzer.
Some big-time shots — like a 3-pointer from Ary Hicks, a pair of layups by Adaora Edeoga, a an and-one and a layup by Lowers and a steal-and-score by Jimenez — made it impossible for the Ascenders to pull away until the final seconds.
Tied at 56-56 with under 30 seconds to play, Gilbert received a pick from Van Slooten, drove left and drew a whistle as she euro-stepped through the Tarpons defense — throwing up a prayer of a shot as she was falling down after the whistle.
Gilbert made both free-throws and one last 3-point heave from Lowers hit the short side of the rim as time expired.
“We knew who we were playing against,” Jimenez said. “We didn’t really care about the matchups, but I chose to guard (Gilbert) because I like to guard the best player, especially when we are going back-and-forth scoring and trash-talking.
“I think we did really well, especially compared to the first time we played them. We played with a lot more energy and we played as a team.”