Howard freshman Lauryn Russell talks about the Lions’ 63-33 win over C. Milton Wright on Thursday, Dec. 21.
After five blowout victories by 30 points or more to open the season, all of which featured a running clock in the second half, Howard went on the road Thursday evening and found itself facing what amounted to the team’s first true test at the hands of C. Milton Wright.
And, while it took until the fourth quarter to finally pull away for good, the Lions ultimately used a consistent effort on the defensive end to stay undefeated on the year.
Five players scored seven or more points and Howard improved to 6-0 with a 53-33 victory over the Mustangs.
“We knew coming in this was going to be a tough one, a long road trip to play against a good team that’s athletic and fast. So we had to kind of battle through it at times tonight,” Howard coach Scott Robinson said. “But when we needed to, we made shots and I also thought we got great energy from some players off our bench — Lauryn Russell especially. She really came in and gave us a big spark in the second half when we seemed to be getting lethargic.”
Russell ended up scoring five of her eight points during a 9-0 run to open the fourth quarter that essentially put the game away. Joining her as offensive standouts for the Lions were Courtney Furr (12 points), Madison Burris (11), Marisa Sanchez-Henry (9) and Taylor Addison (7).
On the other side, Sydney Frank (9 points) and Mariah Snyder (7) led the charge for the Mustangs. While the team trailed most of the way, falling behind by 11 points by the end of the first quarter and 13 at the half, it was clear that C. Milton Wright had a game plan in place that wasn’t going to allow Howard to run away with things.
“We wanted to go in there and play aggressive defense, try to take them off their game a little bit,” Mustangs coach Beck Dutko said. “They’re a good team, they’ve blown out some really strong teams already this year, so we talked about matching them physically and not letting them be the ones dictating [tempo.]”
By forcing contested shots and battling for every rebound, the Mustangs effectively managed Howard’s ability to string together runs. Until the final quarter, the Lions managed just one stretch of three unanswered baskets.
The key then to maintaining the lead for Howard came down to its own defensive effort. The Lions came in having allowed an average of only 20.8 points per game to its first five opponents and made things similarly difficult on the Mustangs.
“The key to winning the game was our defense, we stayed as a team,” Russell said. “In the first half, we were a little slow [at times], but we came out after halftime and we picked up.”
After allowing C. Milton Wright to score 19 in the first half, Howard held the host Mustangs to just 14 points after intermission. Robinson said finding a little more consistency is something the team will work on moving forward, but he was still overall pleased with the result.
“What we’ve got to do is learn to bring energy, all 12 players, into every game for the full four quarters. Quite honestly, I thought there were times where C.M. Wright just outworked us,” Robinson said. “But in the end, it’s always good to go into holiday break with a win … especially on the road.”
C. Milton Wright dropped to 4-2 with the loss, but Dutko said the team is right where she hoped they would be at this point in the season.
“I think we’re in a good place. We still have some improvements and adjustments to make, but you can see we are starting to come together,” she said. “I like to play these tough teams, that’s what gets you ready for playoffs. And I think by the end of the season, we’re going to be a well-oiled machine.”
The Lightning continued their dominant start to the season, improving to 4-0 overall and 3-0 in county play with the 31-point victory. Lyric Swann (20 points), Arianna Briggs-Hall (18) and Kiana Williams (13) all finished in double figures scoring for a Long Reach team that was ahead 36- at the half and never looked back.
Hailey Hamshey and Olivia Reese scored seven points apiece to lead Centennial in the loss.
LR (3-0, 4-0): L. Swann 20, Briggs-Hall 18, Williams 13, J. Swann 6, Streeter 4, Thompson 4, Proctor 2.