By Mike Monahan
HICKORY, N.C. – Lake Land knew it would need to slow down the University of South Carolina-Salkehatchie, a team that entered Wednesday night’s NJCAA women’s basketball quarterfinal game averaging 99 points a game.
The Lakers, 11th in the nation defensively, ultimately held Salkehatchee without a field goal for the final 6 minutes, 23 seconds – while finishing on a 13-5 run for a 61-55 triumph.
Lake Land (23-2) now plays a familiar foe in the semifinals when it takes on Parkland at 6 p.m. Friday.
“The defense definitely won it,” said Lake Land coach Dave Johnson. “I can’t say enough about the defense. It was one of our best performances. We held the nation’s leading scorer Mariah Igus (28 ppg) to 17 points and she had to shoot 18 times (6-of-18) to get that. Abby Weis was on her most of the time and Olivia Niemerg sometimes. They both made her work, work, work.”
Igus, who had entered the game shooting 51.7 percent, made only 3-of-10 from beyond the 3-point line.
Lake Land, though, struggled in the first half. That’s why with 40 seconds left, Lake Land let the shot clock wind down before shooting.
“We had people in foul trouble and just wanted to get to the half,” said Johnson. “Sometimes, you don’t want half to come, but today we wanted halftime (in order) to get reorganized.”
Lake Land led for 21 minutes, 30 seconds in a game where neither team led by more than seven points.
Salkehatchie led for the final time, 50-48, after a basket by 6-foot-3 Shatra Elmore with 6:23 remaining.
Lake Land’s Tresoir Newson then tied the game for the eighth and final time. Kamaria Gant, who finished with a team-high 13 points, followed by scoring five straight points, including a 3-pointer. Shania Schoonover scored on a feed from Harley Barry, who tied with Newson for the most assists on the team with five.
“I thought that was a huge play,” said Johnson. “They had gone to a half-court trap and Harley recognized that and made a long pass to Shania and put us up seven.”
It was the first time Lake Land had won by less than 10 points all season.
The team made only 31.1 percent of its shots (23-of-74), and just 6-of-35 (.171) from beyond the 3-point line. “It wasn’t pretty,” said Johnson.
But the Lakers seemed to make 3s when they needed them most, including two by Barry in the last three minutes of the third quarter that put the the Lakers ahead 44-39 entering the final quarter.
“Give them (Salkehatchie) credit,” said Johnson. “They were an outstanding team on both ends. They were undefeated (15-0) and the 10th seed. I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know if I have seen a team in the GRAC (Great Rivers Athletic Conference) with that type of athletes and ability to score 1 through 9. They are a really strong team.”
Lake Land had led 27-20 after a free throw by Barry, who finished with 12 points, before the Indians scored 10 of the final 13 points to tie the score at halftime at 30.
“I still felt like our man (defense) was working well,” said Johnson. “They are such an explosive team and we survived two of their spurts, one in the second and one early in the third. We were going to bat with our best and that is our man-to-man.”
Lake Land made 9-of-13 free throws overall compared to 6-of-12 for the Indians.
“We talked (at halftime) about running our screen game a little more,” Johnson said. “We were dribbling around too much in the first half. We got a few cuts out of it and layups in our half-court offense, and they were hard-earned points. We were not getting much at times.”
Lake Land did not play until 8 p.m. CST Tuesday, which made for a long day.
“We purposely stayed away for the games,” said Johnson. “We had a big lunch and went around downtown and came back to the rec gym and had a big screen projection of the games on it and some players went with their parents.”
The team will relax with sightseeing today.
No. 6 seed Parkland (19-3) beat No. 14 seeded Union Count 50-40 to improve to 19-3. The two teams split the regular season series. A 13-0 run in the fourth quarter lifted Parkland 77-67 in the first game in February, but the Lakers went on a 20-11 third-quarter run to win the second game last month, 70-56.
The winner advances to the national championship game Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
The other four teams in the quarterfinals play Thursday night when top-seeded Kirkwood takes on No. 8 seeded Illinois Central and No. 4 seed Johnson City battles No. 12 seeded Iowa Central.