Defensive hustle nearly earned the Indian River Lady Indians basketball team (3-6) a win against the Polytech Lady Panthers (10-2) on Jan. 16, despite their succumbing to a 14-point second-half deficit and trailing by 11 heading into the fourth quarter.
Without batting an eye, the Lady Indians buckled down to outscore the Polytech 17-4 behind decisive defensive fourth-quarter play and trimmed the lead to 45-43 with a chance to tie the game with just a half-second remaining in regulation. However, it proved to be too little time and they fell to the Lady Panthers in the losing effort Tuesday.
Polytech’s lead often hovered around seven or nine points, but it swelled to 14 points before Lady Indians guard Lizzy Handy’s second three-pointer cut it back down to11 heading into the fourth quarter. From that point on, the game was up for grabs — literally.
Junior forward Jasmin Holden got the ball rolling for the Lady Indians after breaking on a lazy pass for the steal and an uncontested lay-up. The play sparked a 10-4 Indian River run with five minutes remaining in the game, cutting the Polytech lead to 41-35 — their narrowest lead since the first quarter.
Junior and sophomore guards Rayc Rayne and Marnisha Mitchell then made similar plays back-to-back to convert the easy basket in transition for their team-high 10th and ninth points of the game, respectively. That closed the Polytech lead to 45-43 with a little less than a minute remaining, but the Lady Indians were unable to get over the final hump.
“We’ve developed so much since this point last year,” Lady Indians head coach Summer Chorman said. “And defense has been our biggest improvement. We were very effective in man (defense) and, though we made a few mistakes here and there, defense has been our biggest improvement.”
“What we need to start doing is to mold a game like we did at the end of the third quarter and the fourth quarter,” she continued. “If we did that tonight then we would’ve won.”
“We need to stop playing around and play hard in the beginning,” Rayne added. “We’ve been a fourth-quarter team, but if we want to win we need to make it a whole game.”
Indian River fell behind partly because they shot a poor percentage from outside range.
“We got in trouble because we settled for outside shots,” Chorman explained. “We have a lot of girls that can shoot the outside shot, but it wasn’t falling for us early.”
Indian River hit six of 30 field goals from outside the paint and Handy was the only one out of five Indian River shooters to convert on two of 12 three-pointer attempts.
Polytech forward Keisha Staten scored 13 first-half points, including splashing seven of seven from the free-throw line. But Staten then was limited in the second half to only four points on 2-9 shooting from the field, finishing with 17 points. She sunk the only field goal on 12 fourth-quarter team attempts. For the first time in the game, as a team, the Lady Panthers were out-rebounded 15-7 in the last eight-minute quarter by Indian River. They had out-rebounded Indian River 30-17 through three-quarters and had scored more points than their opponents in each quarter — except for that fourth quarter.
The two teams had an identical number of rebounds in the second half (19) and, though Polytech grabbed two more offensive rebounds (8-6), Indian River made the most of their second-chance scoring opportunities by sinking three of five shots from inside the paint. That compared to the Lady Panthers converting on only one of seven follow-up shots.
“Indian River really played a nice game,” Lady Panthers head coach George Eilers said. “They played extremely well defensively and I give my compliments to the coach. They made adjustments, and we had a hard time countering them.”
Eilers cited Indian River’s ability to stop the dribble penetration into the paint as the “tell of the game.”
“It’s what we’ve relied on all season,” Eilers stated.
By stopping the Lady Panthers’ bread and butter Indian River was able to creep back and compete for the win.
“Another three minutes and Indian River would’ve won the game,” Eilers conceded. “Their girls never quit. We’re just grateful to come out with the win.”
But one team’s fortune has become the other team’s rallying call.
“If we had beat Polytech, we would’ve been 4-5 and that would’ve been an improvement in our record by three,” Rayne said. “Two (games) isn’t enough!”
Chorman is hoping that her team’s effort during the Polytech loss will carry over during their stretch against the Henlopen North.
Indian River will host Cape Henlopen on Jan. 18 and then travel to Sussex Tech and Sussex Central on Jan 23 and 25, respectively.