Aberdeen's No. 1 girls basketball team knows how to keep rolling no matter what happens to its lineup.
Playing without four of the top eight players including two starters, the host Eagles easily handled No. 14 Patterson Mill, 75-51, in a key Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference game Thursday night.
When the two met on Jan. 10, the Eagles barely pulled out a 60-57 win, but that was right after the first big change to their lineup — their first game after 6-foot-3 senior center Brionna Jones, last season's All-Metro Player of the Year, suffered the torn anterior cruciate ligament that has sidelined her for the season.
Thursday night, the Eagles (16-3, 8-0 conference) were also without point guard Kierra Palmer, still recovering from a concussion, as well as two key reserves sidelined with academic issues.
Still the defending state Class 3A champions were undaunted.
"We just wanted to keep running the ball and pushing and getting as many shots as possible," Aberdeen forward Stephanie Jones said, "and playing good defense, not letting them shoot wide-open shots."
Their up-tempo offense and pesky defense proved too much for the Huskies, whose top offensive threats Morgan Golec and Qalea Ismail got into foul trouble. The two combined for 26 points, but Golec, a 3-point ace, had to sit out much of the first quarter with two fouls and the Eagles did a good job defensively keeping her covered the rest of the time.
The Eagles made their big move in a little over four minutes spanning halftime when they boosted an eight-point lead to 23 sparked by defensive gem Jimmia McCluskey's three steals, three assists and six points.
When the Eagles went to the locker room at halftime with a 39-23 lead, McCluskey said, they wanted to make sure the Huskies (14-6, 6-2) didn't get a spark to open the second half. The senior, who is also a state track champion, hounded Huskies guard Samantha Herman into turning the ball over at midcourt and then converted the layup on the first play of the half.
Stephanie Jones then hit a follow shot and McCluskey fed Nazje Norton for a 3-pointer and a 46-23 lead just 1:28 into the half.
"We knew they were going to come out hard the second half, but we had to come out harder," McCluskey said. "The harder we came out, the more the score went up and that was our main goal, to keep the score going up and away from them so they wouldn't make it a close game like last time."
Patterson Mill coach Holly Ismail, whose team reached the Class 2A state semfinals last season, said her team struggled offensively in the first half and not just because Golec sat out much of it.
"In the first half, we left a lot of points out there," the coach said. "We left a lot of layups out there and we missed a lot of free throws. We were 4-for-10 in the first half and you can't win ball games against a team like this. You go into halftime down by 16, you're killing yourself mentally. The momentum's in their favor already."
Aberdeen ran its lead as high as 29 points in the third quarter and had four players finish in double figures. Stephanie Jones had 23 points and 12 rebounds. Norton had 20 points and McCluskey, 17. Endia Jones added 13 points and had 19 rebounds.
With the win over their closest UCBAC rival, the Eagles need just one victory in their final three conference games to win the Chesapeake Division of the UCBAC.
PM—Wilson 3, Herman 8, Golec 11, Ismail 15, Moro 8, Peguero 6. Totals: 19 10-19 51.
A—Dooley 2, Norton 20, E.Jones 13, McCluskey 17, S.Jones 23. Totals 31 10-22 75. Half: A, 39-23.