Being able to “finish games” is the mantra of countless coaches teaching young teams. And the coaches from both sides of East and North’s game on Thursday night agreed the ability to finish was the sole difference.
North, having experience this season in close games, came away on top and survived a late charge by East to steal a game on the road 54-48.
“I told them, the only way we’re going to beat this team was if we finished the plays off, finish those layups, knock down all those free throws, because that’s what [East] was doing,” North coach Kenny Thomas said. “That’s what we’ve had to go through every game. We’ve been here before.”
Except for three games, North (5-9, 4-8) hasn’t had a night off from a nail-biting finish this season. On Thursday night, it was senior Keishawnna Burts who kept the Vikings on the winning end.
East coach LaCresia Shaw, on the other hand, said the Dragons still need to learn “how to finish.”
“We’ve had close games against Buchtel, against Ellet, when we had opportunities at the end to finish,” Shaw said. “And we have to learn how to do that.”
North entered the fourth quarter leading 34-22, but East amped up its defensive pressure and held the Vikings to just three points in five minutes. The Dragons (2-8, 5-12), led by senior Jaquea Latimer’s 12 points in the final quarter, drew within one point with 2:45 remaining on the clock.
After a couple of North free throws, Burts then turned a steal into an easy layup and made a 3-pointer on the next possession to extend the Vikings’ lead to 45-37.
In the final minute, Latimer made two free throws and a jumper, and freshman Nora Minter turned an offensive rebound into a basket. North made four-of-six free-throw attempts, but still East had the ball with 8.9 seconds left in a three-point game. East, inbounding under North’s hoop, tried to lob it over the Vikings’ defense. Burts was able to turn around, track the ball, steal it and lay in the winning basket. She was also fouled on the play and made the free throw.
Burts finished the game with 14 points and seven steals. As far as defense goes, it was actually a slightly subpar game for her — she’s averaging more than seven steals a game.
“It’s just what she does,” Thomas said. “In our defense, what we try to do is take away the star player and then man up on everybody else. Usually when that happens, it’s a lot of chaos. We handle chaos very well.”
Shaw was pleased with East’s comeback, win or loss.
“My girls are fighters,” she said. “They kept their composure. We were able to make some adjustments and fight for it, not give it away easy.”
Shaw had a message at the end of the third quarter — and it almost worked.
“I told them it was going to come down to who wanted it more,” she said. “I asked them if they wanted it, and they said they did. So I said, ‘Show me.’ ”
Latimer finished with a game-high 19 points. Minter scored 12 points.
North also received a boost from freshman Tia Balknight, who scored six points and had a key steal midway through the fourth quarter. Thomas has received some nice contributions from freshmen throughout the season.
“We’re telling them to be confident,” Thomas said. “We’re getting some good games. We’ve got a lot of freshmen stepping up and hitting free throws, doing some good things.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.