Aberdeen's girls basketball team got off to a quick start Thursday night, scoring the first eight points against nationally ranked Riverdale Baptist, but with the Eagles' lack of a true point guard and the Crusaders' impressive perimeter shooting, it couldn't last.
Riverdale Baptist, ranked No. 17 in USA Today's Girls Basketball Super 25 and No. 4 in The Washington Post, hit 14 3-pointers en route to an 85-66 victory at No. 1 Aberdeen, their third win over the Eagles in less than a year. Last season, the Crusaders dealt Aberdeen the only loss in its state championship season.
Having fallen to the Crusaders, 56-41, at the National Title IX Holiday Classic in Washington D.C., on Dec. 28, Aberdeen knew what to expect and they weren't intimidated.
"I think we played them better this game than last game. We cut down on our mistakes and we kind of kept the pressure on them more," said Eagles freshman forward-guard Stephanie Jones, who finished with 30 points and nine rebounds.
The one thing Aberdeen (13-3) could not make up for was the loss of sophomore point guard Kierra Palmer, who suffered a concussion in Tuesday's game and could not play. Several players had to share ball-handling duties, with most of it falling on Jones and senior guard Jimmia McCluskey.
Early on, Aberdeen used its press to throw off the Crusaders (21-3), forcing five turnovers and converting four for points to take an 8-0 lead just 1:24 into the game. It didn't take the Crusaders long to rebound, however, as they tied the game on Chloe Jackson's runner and eventually took the lead for good on Ashanti Freeland's follow shot with 30 seconds to go in the first half.
The Crusaders, playing without their second-leading scorer, ran their lead as high as 17 midway through the third quarter, using their accurate 3-point shooting — Auteaonna Gilmore and Tykera Carter hit four each — to open opportunities inside.
"I knew they had some young kids down low that they were starting," Crusaders coach Sam Caldwell said, "so we were running some screens, some misdirection plays and they just weren't able to recover fast enough."
Still, the Eagles battled back to within nine after a 14-6 run that began with 2:28 left in the third quarter and ended on Donisha Porter's two free throws to cut the margin to 67-58. However, McCluskey, the Eagles' veteran leader, was called for a technical foul — her fifth — when her clapping for the previous Riverdale Baptist foul was viewed as taunting by the referee, Aberdeen coach Amber Milnes said.
Without McCluskey (14 points) and Palmer and with the rest of the Eagles wearing down, the Crusaders scored 10 of the next 11 points. Gilmore (21 points) and Jackson (19 points) finished the spurt with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Despite the loss, Milnes saw plenty of positives in how her young and undermanned squad played.
"Considering we were down our point guard and we have young players out there, I think they gave them a really good game," Milnes said. "This is the first game [since Palmer's concussion] and we had one practice in between, so it was just [about] trying to hold it together, trying to run some kind of offense without our ballhandler. Against a nationally ranked team, I don't think we fared too bad. Clearly there was a lack of offensive sets being run, but we put up 66 points, which is usually our average."
RB—Carter 22, Turner 3, Gilmore 21, Mickel 4, Freeland 3, Jackson 19, Singleton 7, Wright 3, Scott 4. Totals 30 11-16 85.
A—Norton 7, E.Jones 8, McCluskey 14, S.Jones 30, Porter 5, Taylor 2. Totals: 23 17-27 66. Half: RB, 36-33.