McDonogh's girls basketball team has held on to the No. 1 ranking all season, but the Eagles have had to make a lot of adjustments to do it, filling holes left by two injured starters. Coach Brad Rees said his players are finally hitting their stride.
The Eagles got off to a fast start Monday night as they easily handled No. 4 Roland Park, 61-30, to remain undefeated in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.
Against the Reds, who also lost a starter to injury, the host Eagles (11- 2, 5-0 conference) ran out to a 9-0 lead and extended it to 41-13 by the half.
For McDonogh, the two-time defending A Conference champion, losing juniors Kolbi Green to a foot injury and Morgan Jacob to a torn ACL forced Rees to scramble his lineup.
"Everyone has had to relearn their role — where they are on the court, what they're supposed to do. Saturday was the first time we really saw people start to fill into their roles," Rees said of the Eagles' 51-24 win over Milford Mill at the Public vs. Private Challenge. "We were pretty excited about Saturday and they came out tonight and I thought they stepped it up another notch. I'm pretty excited about the direction we're headed at this point."
With the IAAM championships about a month away, the Eagles have defeated five of the six A Conference teams, but they still have to face No. 2 St. Frances, which is also unbeaten in the conference, twice. Their first meeting is Jan. 20 at St. Frances.
On Monday, McDonogh took advantage of 23 Reds turnovers in the first half. The Eagles scored their first nine points — and 26 in the half — off turnovers
The Reds, coming off a 56-54 loss to No. 3 Old Mill in the Public vs. Private Challenge, played McDonogh without senior All-Metro guard Jaia Alexander. Coach Scott Buckley said it was his decision to sit her, but he declined to elaborate.
That didn't help a young team that was already without its defensive leader, senior guard Ryan Holder, who is out of the season with torn hand ligaments. It took the Reds (12-3, 4-2) awhile to adjust to McDonogh.
"For some of our young kids, you can't duplicate the kind of intensity and defensive intensity that they bring," Buckley said, "so you've got to live and learn. First half, we weren't ready for that level. As the game got better, I think our intensity matched their intensity, but you can't ease into the game."
Taleah Dixon scored six of her 16 points in the Eagles' opening run while Kayla Liles had a three-point play. The Reds cut the lead to 10-5 on Aniyah Carpenter's basket, but McDonogh went on another 9-0 run before Carpenter hit a 3-pointer to end the quarter at 19-8.
The Eagles ran away with it in the second quarter, scoring nine points within 26 seconds to spark a 16-point run to close the half. AJ Davis finished a three-point play for a 41-13 lead at the break.
"We didn't want to underestimate them because they were missing a couple of players," Eagles senior forward Andrea Robinson said. "I think we're in good position now. We're executing on offense, we're making smart plays and we're fouling a lot less than we had been. We have our team goals — to try to get a certain amount of assists, limit the turnovers and just keep playing smart — and we've been doing that. That's why we've been seeing the success that we have."
For Buckley, whose team will meet the Eagles again Jan. 22, getting his young players experience can only help.
"For the way we think, it's still early," Buckley said. "Big games are played in February. We've got a lot to learn but we've got a whole month to get there."