For the Eastbrook Panthers, It was an offensive night to forget.
They shot just four-of-25 from the field, and hit only one shot in the second half. In the paint alone, they shot just 15 percent.
But in the end, their defense and their free throw shooting made the difference, as the Panthers survived and advanced with a 27-26 triumph over the Madison-Grant Argylls in their Sectional 39 opener last Tuesday evening.
The Panthers’ victory over the Argylls was their third this season. They defeated Madison-Grant 36-27 in the annual Grant Four Tournament and 29-20 back on January 25.
“Our defense has been solid all year long,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jeff Liddick said. “I think we’ve only given up over 50 points twice all season long, and this is the sixth or seventh time that we’ve held a team under 30. We are doing great on the defensive end.”
And the Panthers needed that strong defensive effort all evening long because offense was hard to come by.
In the first eight minutes, the two teams combined for just seven points. Kristin Goff opened the scoring at the 6:20 mark, and the Panthers scored just three points after that. One point came on a Johwen McKim free throw, while the remaining two came on a field goal from Lexi Binkerd.
Daya Greene scored the only two points for Madison-Grant, as Eastbrook’s 2-3 zone defense kept the Argylls’ offense under wraps. The Panthers forced six turnovers in the quarter, while allowing just five field goal attempts.
“We weren’t aggressive,” Madison-Grant Head Coach Brandon Bradley said. “We were aggressive in the last few days of practice. We’ve been aggressive the second half of the season. Tonight, we were just catching the ball, making sure everything was exact and precise, and not taking a lot of chances.”
McKenna Lugar cut the Eastbrook lead to one with a layup on Madison-Grant’s first shot attempt of the second quarter, but the Panthers, and McKim, answered back. The Panthers’ point guard missed most of Monday’s practice due to flu-like symptoms and most of the school day on Tuesday as well. But as the day progressed, she felt that she could play, and despite not being 100 percent, she put together a stellar performance.
In the second quarter, she scored all eight of Eastbrook’s points. She was aggressive, driving into the lane on a consistent basis and getting herself to the line. McKim went to the charity stripe four times, knocking down six of her eight attempts.
“It’s tough to get her out of the game,” Liddick said. “She’s a big part of our success. She played pretty tough despite coming off some [flu-like] issues.”
After the Panthers took a 12-6 lead, the Argylls began to push back, using a 6-1 run to cut Eastbrook’s advantage to 13-12 at the halftime break.
While they had the lead, the Panthers’ shooting was little to be desired. They shot one-of-seven in the second quarter alone, and just three-of-15 in the first half.
“I thought we did great things on the offensive end tonight. We got 20 shots in the paint and only hit three of them,” Liddick said. “We were getting the ball where we wanted to get it, we just weren’t finishing.”
However, their defense forced 10 Madison-Grant turnovers, and their free-throw shooting, which has struggled for most of the season, was excellent in the first half. As a team, the Panthers shot seven-of-11 from the line.
“I think it was a carryover from Friday. We came out in the second half against Blackford and went 9-for-12 from the line,” Liddick said. “We are starting to gain some composure at the free throw line and some confidence, and we were able to do it again tonight.”
The scoring woes continued for both teams in the third quarter, as they combined for just eight points. Furthermore, the Panthers did not hit a shot in the third quarter, shooting zero-of-eight.
At the 2:10 mark of the frame, the Panthers took a 19-14 lead after two free throws from Sedah McKim, but a basket from Greene off a steal in the final seconds cut the Panthers’ edge to just three points heading into the final eight minutes.
The Argylls made it interesting in the early stages of the stanza, tying the contest at 20-20 on a basket from Azmae Turner, but the Panthers answered with three more free throws, pushing the lead back out to three.
To that point, the Panthers had not attempted a three. With 3:05 left to play, Goff changed that, hitting the biggest shot of the game, and of Eastbrook’s season, from three-point range, giving the Panthers a 26-20 advantage. It turned out to be their only field goal of the second half, and their first in over two quarters.
“Kristin’s been hitting shots like that for us all year,” Liddick said. “She had a big one against Madison-Grant in the Grant Four. She hit a big one against Madison-Grant last week. She is capable of knocking that down.”
Madison-Grant made one final rally after Goff’s triple, but the Panthers held on down the stretch, knocking down two more free throws to secure the victory.
“A win is a win,” Liddick said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we get to move on and play another game.”
McKim led the Panthers in scoring with 12 points, while Goff and Binkerd each finished with six.
For the Argylls, Turner recorded 11 points, while Blayklee Stitt added six points.
Tuesday’s game marked the end of the Argylls’ 2019-2020 season, but it does not take away from all of the growth and development they showcased throughout the season. Behind the strong senior leadership of Stitt, Lugar, Kasey Cleaver, and Bryleigh Sullivan, they recorded three more wins than they did a season ago, and every player that stepped out on the floor improved with each passing contest.
And while those aforementioned girls each played their final basketball game in a Madison-Grant uniform, their contributions to the Lady Argylls’ basketball program will not soon be forgotten.
“I told them that the one thing I don’t want them to do is leave here and change who [they] are as people,” Bradley said. “No matter what happens on the basketball floor or in any sporting arena, don’t change your character and don’t change who you are. What I like most about this team is each of them as individuals. That’s why they are fun to be around.”