Nelson, defense help No. 2 McDonogh pull away from No. 5 Catonsville in girls basketball, 57-45

To McDonogh guard Aleah Nelson, there was just one way the No. 2 Eagles were going to win Wednesday night’s game at No. 5 Catonsville — together.

The Eagles struggled with their shooting especially when the taller Comets had the time to set up their zone defense, but in the closing minutes, the Eagles turned to their swarming defense, forced turnovers for a big edge in possession and started hitting a few more shots. Nelson scored 11 of her 15 points in the final quarter as the Eagles took a 57-45 victory on the road.

Nelson said it all came together because the guard-laden Eagles didn’t let their shooting troubles affect their game. They picked up the defense, encouraged one another and turned a 44-42 lead with 5:26 left into 12-point win.

“That’s what won us the game, I feel like,” Nelson said. “We came together at the end. We didn’t let them take us out of our game.”

The Eagles (4-1) took the lead for good late in the first half, but the Comets (1-1) scored nine straight points to cut an 11-point McDonogh lead to 42-40 early in the fourth quarter. The teams traded baskets to 44-42 with 5:26 left in the game. Nelson hit back-to-back shots, a layup from Taleah Dixon and a 3-pointer from Kayla Liles, to run the lead to 49-42.

Catonsville’s Jasmine Dickey, who led all scorers with 20 points, interrupted what would be an 11-1 Eagles run with a free throw with 2:34 to go, but Nelson converted a follow shot and Jessica Booth hit a 12-footer after a Comets turnover. Nelson then hit her only 3-pointer of the game to boost the lead to 55-45 with a minute left.

The Eagles have lost their tallest player, 6-foot forward AJ Davis, for the season with a torn ACL, which didn’t help against the taller Comets, but McDonogh had the speed — when they were able to use it — to trump the Comets’ height, especially in the fourth quarter.

“If we don’t hit a couple of those [early 3-pointers], we can’t get into our defense,” McDonogh coach Brad Rees said, “and it’s a double-edge sword, because we rely on defense to generate offense.”

Against one of the stronger teams they’ll face this year, the Comets held their own for most of the game. The defending Class 4A state champions have four starters back, but they made some unfortunate mistakes at key moments, including turning the ball over three times for taking more than five seconds to inbound the ball.

Comets coach Mike Mohler said he was encouraged by his team’s showing against one of the top teams in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference, the Baltimore area’s strongest conference.

“They see that competition every single night,” Mohler said, “and we see it five times, maybe six, a year and I know we gave away six points just breaking down mentally on inbounds, simple getting the ball in. Girls who shouldn’t be taking the ball out, taking the ball out and things like that.”

In a first half in which neither team led by more than five, the Comets got the early jump with the opening four points from Dickey. The Eagles then grabbed the momentum with their press forcing four Catonsville turnovers in an eight-point run capped by Booth’s layup off a steal.

Late in the quarter, the Eagles boosted their lead to five on Jayla Oden’s 3-pointer and two free throws from Nelson.

The Comets, who got 14 points from Dickey in the half, took the lead back early in the second quarter, using their height to close off the paint while the Eagles’ outside shooting went cold. The lead changed hands four times in the quarter, but the Eagles scored the final seven points for a 28-24 halftime lead, including back-to-back 3-pointers from Nelson and Booth in the final 47 seconds.

M—Dixon 18, Nelson 15, Booth 10, Liles 7, Oden 5, Valdez 2. Totals 21 9-11 57.

C—Barrett 12, Daniels 8, Douglas 2, Dickey 20, Wrisk 3. Totals: 18 9-15 45. Half: M, 28-24

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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