Defense, rebounding carries Eastbrook to second win

In the early stages of the 2019-2020 season, the Eastbrook Panthers’ offense is still a work in progress.

In Wednesday night’s contest against the Southwood Knights, despite getting some good looks, the Panthers shot just 33.3 percent from the field (13-of-39) and 37.5 percent (three-of-eight) from beyond the arc. 

But on a night where their shots were not falling at a consistent rate, the Panthers’ defense and rebounding proved to be the difference in a 34-18 triumph.

“I was extremely proud of the effort,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jeff Liddick said. “And I was very pleased with how much we improved over our last game.”

Against Cowan on November 26, the Panthers struggled in all facets. Their offense failed to hit shots, and their defense had a hard time stopping the Blackhawks from making theirs.

But against Southwood, it was a whole different story. For 32 minutes, the Eastbrook defense put the clamps on the Southwood offense, forcing 13 turnovers while holding the Knights to a paltry six-of-46 (13 percent) from the floor and two-of-26 (7.6 percent) from beyond the arc. 

“That’s something we talked about Monday and Tuesday,” Liddick said. “If we are going to struggle on the offensive end, that’s okay. I don’t like it…but if we are only going to average 35-40 points a game, then we have to be able to play defense against our opponents like we did tonight.”

Offensively, the Panthers did a much better job of moving the ball around, making crisp passes, keeping the Southwood defense off balance, and creating high quality shots throughout the evening. 

“We were patient. We were ripping the ball. We were making great passes,” Liddick said. “That’s what was breaking their defense down and allowing us to get that ball movement we were getting and the good shots that we were getting. It was much improved, but we need to build on it.” 

Brianna Stepp hit the first field goal of the game for the Panthers and they never trailed after that. Four points from Shauna Singer, together with baskets from Johwen McKim and Lexi Binkerd gave the Panthers a 10-3 lead after the first quarter of play.

Eastbrook’s suffocating defense continued in the second quarter, as they held the Knights to just one field goal. 

McKim, Eastbrook’s leading scorer, found her shooting stroke. With the Panthers holding on to a 12-5 advantage, McKim scored eight of Eastbrook’s final 10 points in the quarter, including two triples, to put the Panthers up 22-5 at halftime. 

Southwood, after scoring just five points in the first half, recorded their best offensive output in the third quarter, scoring seven points, but Eastbrook also knocked their shots in the third frame, shooting 50 percent (five-for-10). 

McKim added five more points, including her third triple of the contest, to help the Panthers build a 33-12 advantage heading into the final frame.  

“For three quarters, [she] played the way a mature point guard should play,” Liddick said. “She was making all the right reads. She was making all of the right decisions. She was taking shots in rhythm of the offense instead of forcing them up there.”

Armed with a double-digit lead, the Panthers took their foot off the gas in the final eight minutes. They turned the ball over 10 times, missed all five of their shot attempts, and scored just one point, which came on a Sedah McKim free throw. 

“We got a little sloppy in the fourth quarter,” Liddick said. “I thought we were getting great looks in those first three quarters. [We were] running some good offense, but in the fourth quarter, we were forcing a lot of things that weren’t there.”

But while there mistakes on offense, Eastbrook’s defense finished the job they started, holding Southwood to just six more points in the fourth to secure the 16-point victory. 

The Panthers dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the Knights by a margin of 46-25. Binkerd came away with 12 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive glass, while Singer, who is listed at just 5-7, collected 10 for the contest. 

“Shauna was our sparkplug tonight for sure,” Liddick said. “She’s the one that set the tone for the intensity level, and everybody else just rode her coat tails. That’s something that Shauna is extremely good at, and something that she has to bring every single night. Shauna is not big by any means…but she works so hard at getting positioning and blocking out that she plays a lot bigger than she actually is.”

Along with McKim’s 15 points, Binkerd scored nine and Singer added five. 

Makenna Pace led the Knights with six points, while Aleia Sweet collected four points off the bench. 

All in all, it was an encouraging performance for Eastbrook. Their defense is coming along nicely, and if they continue to rebound the way they did on Wednesday night, they will be in a lot of basketball games going forward. 

“Tonight is something we have to keep building on,” Liddick said. “We can’t be satisfied with it, and I don’t think the girls will be. I think we will come in tomorrow ready to get to work and improve on what we did tonight.”

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