While Eastbrook’s offensive production has rapidly improved this season, the Panthers’ strength is their play on the defensive end of the floor.
And it was the key to their third straight win in their CIC opener on Wednesday evening against Mississinewa.
Behind 25 forced turnovers, together with a shutout in the second quarter, the Panthers began their conference schedule on the right foot with a 66-32 triumph over the Indians.
The Panthers’ 66 points scored marked their second-best offensive output of the season, while the 32 points allowed was the second-lowest.
“I told them at the end of the first that I didn’t feel all five girls were working as a unit,” Eastbrook Head Coach Jeff Liddick said. “I challenged them at the beginning of the second, ‘Listen, if all five of you will react and play with intensity, we will go on a big run here.’ That defense led to a lot of steals, which led to a lot of layups.”
After Sophia Morrison and Johwen McKim led the Panthers to a 14-7 lead after the opening eight minutes of play, the duo helped the Panthers dial in defensively. Eastbrook brought Mississinewa’s offense to a screeching halt, and a plethora of steals by Morrison and McKim led to several easy baskets on the offensive end.
By the time the halftime buzzer sounded, the Panthers outscored the Indians 19-0 and held a 33-7 advantage at the break.
“That wasn’t our team tonight,” Friday said. “We were mentally checked out the whole game. I’m not sure why, but we are going to watch the film and figure it out. That wasn’t our team. We know that. The girls know that. We will figure it out, watch the film, and see where we can go for Saturday.”
In the second quarter, Mississinewa finished 0-for-10 from the field, while turning the ball over 10 times. They were unable to get anything going offensively, and Eastbrook’s stout defense did not allow them to settle into any sort of rhythm.
“We just didn’t follow the gameplan very well,” Friday said. “We knew that was the defense they were going to run. We practiced it all last week, and then two days this week. We just didn’t execute the gameplan.”
The Panthers retained their focus and composure throughout the rest of the contest, never allowing the lead to drop below double digits. After shooting six-for-11 in the second quarter, Eastbrook continued to pull away in the third, knocking down nine of their 15 attempts and four of their five looks from beyond the arc to increase their advantage to 58-16. Eastbrook’s reserves held their ground in the fourth quarter as the Panthers secured the 34-point triumph.
Morrison put together another sound, all-around performance, leading the Panthers with 19 points while knocking down four of her six three-point field goal attempts. McKim, along with creating havoc on defense, scored 14 points, while Kristin Goff scored 10 points off the bench.
For the Indians, Mia Catey collected a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Marley Starnes and Alayna Webb each finished with six points.
As the season has progressed, the Panthers’ confidence, particularly on offense, has grown immensely. They have become more comfortable in the roles that Liddick has established for them, and it has paid off in their last three contests.
“Every single one of those girls accepted…and embraced the expectations we had for them,” Liddick said. “It’s not only making them better individually, but it’s making everybody else around them that much better. The girls have done an amazing job of embracing that. They come into practice every day very focused and working on getting better.”
After another impressive victory, the Panthers will face their toughest challenge of the season to date, as they will travel to Frankton to take on the No. 2 ranked and defending Class 2A State Runner-Up Eagles.
“They return a very experienced, very talented, very basketball savvy group. To go down there and play makes it even that much tougher,” Liddick said. “Hopefully we go down there and give a great effort.”
While it was a performance that Friday and the Indians would soon forget, it was a special night for Mississinewa senior Darah Watson. Watson, after tearing her ACL in the Indians’ season opener, started the contest, scoring the first two points for Mississinewa before leaving the game. Over the last four years, Watson has helped shape and mold the Lady Indians’ basketball program with her admirable grit, and Friday wanted to make sure that she was honored for all of her contributions throughout her high school career.
“As soon as we found out she was going to have her surgery pushed back, I wanted to make sure that she got this opportunity,” Friday said. “I love that kid. It broke my heart when she went down. But I’m glad we were able to do that for her tonight.”