No. 7 Mexico eludes Lady Owls' upset bid
"This is a familiar scene, isn't it?" observed Marshall head girls' basketball coach Jeff Martin following Tuesday's 46-43 NCMC home loss to seventh-ranked Mexico.
It certainly is. For the sixth time among their seven losses, the Lady Owls had gone into the closing minutes with a chance to win -- but didn't. On the one hand, Marshall demonstrated once more that it has the tools to contend; on the other, the outcome added to the team's frustration.
"We're getting to that time of the year where our learning curve must get better," Martin said. "We can't think that this is good enough."
The Lady Owls were playing catch-up throughout the night, not scoring a field goal during the game's opening six minutes. It may have tempted Martin to call for freshman Kylie Heying, who had just finished scoring 15 points during the junior varsity's 48-12 rout of the Lady Bulldogs -- the day after she scored 19 during a 29-26 decision over Centralia at the Boonville frosh tourney.
"We didn't do a good job getting organized against" the full-court press, Martin admitted after watching his team commit eight turnovers during the opening period. "There's a tendency to hurry and we need to be patient."
Junior Whitney Widaman hit a three-pointer and two free throws as Mexico scored nine straight points to take a 12-3 first-quarter lead. The Lady 'Dogs, though, were unable to pull away, senior Nicki Erickson tallying six points during the final two minutes of the frame to close the gap to two points.
That would be the pattern: Mexico jumping in front, but the Lady Owls reeling their opponent back in.
"We did some very intelligent things when we got down five or seven points," Martin noted. "We got the ball to good spots. Our recognition was pretty good."
Trailing by five at halftime, Marshall held the visitors to seven points during the third period -- senior Julia Stubblefield and sophomore Krystal Peeples blanking sophomore Stephanie Schutte, who had scored eight first-half points inside. A stick-back by freshman Amy Durham and freshman Courtney Henley's baseline jumper reduced the deficit to two points early in the final frame.
"We played much more physical, aggressive post defense," Martin said. "They weren't throwing the ball in there as much."
The Lady Owls appeared to have tied the game, and would be given a chance to take the lead, when Erickson was knocked flying while driving for a layup. Even though senior Shelley DeLong seemed to be still moving on defense when the pair collided, referee Jason Herman called charging -- sidelining Erickson for four minutes with her fourth personal foul.
"You always like to have your best player on the floor in that instance," Martin conceded. "It would have helped keep the momentum going."
Still, as Martin asserted, "we've got to learn to play without her." And that Marshall did, Henley twice posting up inside and sophomore Linzi Bledsoe penetrating to counter a pair of free throws by sophomore Rachel Baker and Widaman's bomb. Senior Robyn Jennings, playing one of her best defensive games, connected from outside to tie the score with 3:01 remaining.
Erickson quickly came up with a steal and the Lady Owls kept the ball for nearly two minutes, without taking a shot. Baker ended the possession with a steal, but couldn't finish the break. She came up with her eighth theft, sneaking up on Erickson from behind, and fed Widaman for a transition bucket with 35 seconds left.
Erickson got to the charity stripe with 19.4 seconds to go, but could only make the second of two shots. Marshall pressed, but the Lady Dawgs threw over the top of it to give Schutte an easy layup for a three-point edge. Martin called time-out with nine seconds remaining to set up a play, but Mexico smothered the perimeter and the Lady Owls were unable to get an open look before time expired.
"We made a couple of boo-boos at the end," Martin remarked. "There were a couple of goofy plays."
Widaman led the Lady 'Dogs (9-2, 4-0 NCMC) with 16 points and Schutte had 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench.
Erickson's 15 points and seven boards topped Marshall, with Henley adding 13 points. The Lady Owls (2-7, 2-2) will play Mexico again Monday in the first round of the McDonald's/Smith-Cotton Classic at Sedalia. Martin is hoping that, sooner better than later, his squad will pull out one of these close games against quality foes.
"They're playing hard still, not getting down about this," he said. "If we get one or two of these in the next couple of weeks, I think we'll get over that hump."