Exhausted, but visibly excited, Centennial junior Anna Mitchell called Thursday night’s matchup with Reservoir “the most aggressive game we had to play all season.”
Her team held a slim lead in the first quarter, and trailed heading into the break. If the Eagles wanted to solidify their place at the top of the county standings, it was time to jump on the throttle.
Thanks to a swarming defense, and winning the possession battle, Centennial took control in the second half. The Eagles (13-2, 14-4) failed to relinquish their lead for the entire fourth quarter, completing the 39-37 victory over the Gators (12-3).
“This was the first time all season that we’ve really fought back,” said Mitchell, who tied teammates Alicia Hsieh and Kimmy Eads with nine points in the winning effort. “It feels awesome.”
Despite registering 24 points and 13 rebounds, Howard County’s double-double machine in Zelor Massaquoi couldn’t rally her Gators in the fourth quarter. Though the Eagles recorded just nine points in the game’s final eight minutes, Reservoir failed to overcome a near five-minute scoring draught in the game’s closing stages.
“We didn’t play with the sense of urgency that we needed to,” said Gators coach Kyle Sullivan, whose team’s 10-game winning streak came to an end at home Thursday. “In a two-point game, a sense of urgency is probably worth 10 points.”
The entire game was a back-and-forth battle, with neither squad earning more than a two-possession advantage for any amount of time. In the first quarter, it was apparent that the two teams were evenly matched, and that time off the court due to weather cancelations would only take its toll for so long. Without a proper practice to prepare for the important county game, Centennial coach Bobby Macheel said he told his girls to continue to play their style of basketball.
“It took us longer to get the lid off, but we ended up playing fine by the end” said Hsieh, referring to her team’s early struggles.
After Massaquoi’s time in the paint against Eads and Mitchell yielded 14 points and five rebounds in the first 16 minuts, Macheel said crucial adjustments needed to be made.
“She’s dominant, and there’s nothing you can do when she gets the ball down low,” he said. “I thought our girls did a great job of responding to that, and taking her out of the game.”
Hsieh commended her coach for changing up the team’s defensive makeup in the second half, opting for zone presses that gave the opponents more than they could handle.
Neither team scored in the first three minutes of the third quarter, keeping with the low-scoring, defensive theme. A heavier presence down low kept Massaquoi out of the paint, forcing the Gators’ leading scorer just six points from the field in the second half.
“The main thing was that Kimmy was doing an awesome job working the post,” Mitchell said. “We doubled Z[elor] under the basket. She was having an awesome game. It’s hard to beat them when she’s getting as many looks as she did.”
Soon, frustration set in for the Gators, who couldn’t beat Centennial’s lockdown full court press. Forcing quick points off turnovers, especially in the fourth quarter, the Eagles built some momentum down the stretch. Sullivan said his team needed to beat the setup before it developed.
“In a night where we’re struggling against the zone defense, you can’t do that,” he said. “Our decision-making was not great.”
The Eagles were coming off a tough loss to Mt. Hebron on Saturday. Macheel made sure that his girls were able to take something positive away and apply it to their next opponent. With another test against Howard in the near future, the coach said his team can’t dwell on its successes for too long.
“Our goal is to keep getting better every day,” he said. “We’re going to take this win and enjoy it, but we have to get ready for another big game on Tuesday.”
Centennial 39, Reservoir 37
Cen: Anna Mitchell 9, Alicia Hsieh 9, Kimmy Eads 9, Brittany Anderson 6, Sara Downing 4, Sammie Albornoz 2.