After losing two straight games, the last one a 36-point blowout, and with a long holiday break looming, Lee’s Summit North wanted to show some bounce-back ability Monday night.
So, how did the Broncos do in their Suburban Gold Conference girls basketball opener at Raymore-Peculiar?
“Not very well at the beginning,” North coach Tricia Lillygren said.
Plagued by foul trouble early, North struggled to find any rhythm offensively or defensively in the first half. But by the fourth quarter, the Broncos righted themselves and went on an 11-0 run that secured a 46-35 victory.
The trouble began for North (4-3, 1-0 Suburban Gold) when 6-foot-2 center Aiyana Johnson picked up three quick fouls, the last two in the first minute of the second quarter.
With their leading scorer on the bench, and 5-9 junior wing Anija Frazier still sidelined with an ankle injury, the Broncos became very thin very fast.
“That put us in a big hole,” Lillygren said. “That just can’t happen. We were scrambling. We’ve got a kid injured, she goes out in foul trouble, we get thin.”
Ray-Pec (5-3, 2-1 Suburban Gold) took advantage of Johnson’s absence, especially 5-10 senior center Shelby Martinez, who scored seven of her game-high 15 points during the second quarter and sparked a 7-0 run that put the Panthers up 18-16 late in the period.
A bank shot by Micaela Dickerson with 1 second left before halftime put North back in front 19-18 at the break, but that was one of only three shots the Broncos made on 13 attempts in the period.
“We just didn’t make the right adjustments to Aiyana being out of the game, because she’s a key part of our scoring,” North senior guard Alexis Griffin said. “We also didn’t adjust defensively, but we took care of that in the second half.”
Griffin and Tiana Gipson hit back-to-back three-pointers to start the second half, putting North up 25-18.
Ray-Pec stayed close as Cassie Kruse, who made four three-pointers and finished with 13 points, drilled a three-pointer 30 seconds into the fourth quarter, pulling the Panthers within 29-28.
But seven fourth-quarter turnovers proved to be the Panthers’ undoing, and the Broncos used those miscues to fuel their run.
Johnson, who didn’t pick up another foul in the second half, started it with an and-one off a backdoor pass from Gipson. Dickerson worked inside for the last six points, including four straight free throws.
North led 40-28 after the run, and Ray-Pec never came closer than six points the rest of the game.
“It’s a little bit more uncomfortable when we’ve got a smaller set of post players in,” Lillygren said. “Not that we can’t still execute, but the confidence is more when we have our starting group on the floor.”
Gipson led North with 12 points, while Griffin, Dickerson and Johnson all finished with 10 points.
Johnson now has more than 1,000 career points, a mark she eclipsed Dec. 11 during a 53-48 loss to Liberty.
Johnson scored another 15 points Dec. 15 against Bishop Miege, but that was about the only positive in a 71-35 loss in the Cable Dahmer Shootout at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.
The four-time reigning Kansas Class 4A Division I state champion Stags pestered the Broncos with a full-court pressure defense that produced 32 turnovers.
“They’re an excellent team,” Lillygren said. “That’s the bottom line. They’re a better team than we are.”
Now, the Broncos, who don’t play again until Jan. 4 when they travel to Park Hill, can feel better about themselves as they begin their break.
“We wanted to win coming into the holidays; we wanted this first conference win,” Lillygren said. “Every time we come to Ray-Pec, it’s close. We were fortunate to come away with a win.”