All Maryvale Prep needed to do was slow down.
And sure enough, out of halftime against visiting Towson on Wednesday evening, the Lions began moving more like a team that wanted to savor each pass, rebound and shoot.
“We knew if we came out with energy and got a few quick layups, that would set the tone for our defense and how the second half would go,” Maryvale Prep coach Alex Miller said.
The Lions surged well-ahead in the second half to rout Towson 54-29. Senior Molly McAleer remained ever-present at the basket from start to finish, leading the Lions with 19 points — 12 of them from beyond the three-point line. Freshman Audrey Allan – the only ninth grader on the team – followed her captain closely with 12 points.
McAleer was heavy on the offensive as the game rolled to a start. As her team began inching on the scoreboard, she jetted them ahead, sinking a trio of 3-point shots in the opening eight minutes to help her Lions (7-3) to a 10-point advantage by quarter’s end.
Defensively, though, Maryvale Prep was speeding ahead of itself. As the Generals (2-4) were still working out their own offensive schemes, the Lions tried too hard to neutralize them. Attempted blocks became fouls. Attempts to rebound became turnovers.
“We had some unnecessary turnovers,” McAleer said. “If we slowed down when we needed to slow down, we could have gotten the offense we wanted.”
Because of it, Towson made moves in the flurry around them. It was at this point that Becca Grim embarked on a campaign to close the gap the Lions had built, adding seven points to the Generals’ effort in the second frame.
Still, despite their mistakes, Maryvale Prep had the definite upper hand come the buzzer that preluded halftime. The Lions led their guests 29-16 as both teams walked back to their respective locker rooms.
The midpoint message was clear to every Lion involved. If they didn’t slow down, they could easily lose this game.
“Although the scoreboard might not have indicated it was a close game,” Miller said, “it was one of those where, they go on a 6-0, 8-0 run, all of a sudden it’s close.”
So they did.
Even as Towson turned up the aggression on rebounds, or looking to strip Maryvale Prep on the dribble, the Lions had figured out the ticket to take-off. McAleer hit another 3-pointer, but that was the input on the floor. What she’d done off the floor made sure Maryvale Prep was done giving up easy turnovers.
“We have a problem with boxing out, so we came in together, said, ‘Hey, we really need to box out, get the rebounds,’ ” she said. “[I] thought we did really well at the end.”
Thanks to McAleer, Allan and a some help from the free-throw line by point guard Sophia Antonopoulos, the Lions carried a healthy 40-22 lead at the end of the third.
Just like her off-court pep-talk, much of what McAleer brought to her team on Wednesday happened out of the spotlight. The senior had been fastidiously fine-tuning her outside shot, adding extra hours post-practice and on Sundays to get it right. She’d taken help from her friends on the boys’ team, her coaches, her father.
“She’s starting to really find her groove, shaking some cobwebs off. … It’s just a matter of getting there and sticking with it,” Miller said.
Claire Neff, a junior that stands a head taller than every other athlete on the court, made her own impact that didn’t make its mark in the scorebook.
“I thought today, she may not have scored a ton, but on the defensive end, her arms and length made it difficult for them to pass the ball,” Miller said. “She does a great job rebounding for us and that gave us the fast break opportunities that we got.”
Maryvale now steps into a treacherous portion of their season, facing the likes of South River and St. Mary’s in the coming weeks.