For the better part of three quarters of Tuesday’s Gwynn Park-Friendly girls basketball game, Yellow Jackets coach Michael Strother echoed the same refrain over and over again — “Push up on the ball.”
After an extremely slow start to the game — a pace dictated by the larger Patriots — Strother’s charges not only closed out better on their opponent, but forced host Friendly into one turnover after another to turn a 16-11 second quarter deficit into leads of 21-19 at halftime and 43-26 after three quarters of play en route to a commanding 59-43 win.
“What I saw was Friendly’s point guard [Marche’ Sisco] didn’t want to handle the basketball once the pressure was applied to her,” said Strother, whose squad improved to 10-2 overall and 9-0 in the county’s 3A/2A/1A League, placing it a game above Largo (9-3, 8-1) and two above Friendly (8-4, 7-2). “Once we were able to do that, we saw her turn her back. As soon as she turned her back, we knew we could get her. We knew we could force them to throw the ball away.”
Gwynn Park’s defensive strategy started to take hold very late in the first half when senior point guard Genesis Lucas converted back-to-back steals into layups and a two-point halftime advantage.
“We definitely had to pick it up; our second team, they actually came in and changed the pace,” said Lucas, who erupted for a game-high 20 points. “In the first half, we were really playing Friendly’s pace. We weren’t playing our pace of basketball.”
The Yellow Jackets then forced Friendly to 10 turnovers in the third quarter, which led to numerous fastbreak layups or baskets and a 17-point lead. Gwynn Park outscored Friendly, 22-7, in the decisive third quarter, which also saw the Patriots commit some unforced turnovers on long pass attempts against the press.
“I’d say that we weren’t working as a team. We threw a lot of bad passes and we had a lot of turnovers,” said Friendly forward Chayla Lewis, who led her squad with 10 points and seven rebounds. Janay Carter adding nine points and eight rebounds. “The turnovers really killed us because they scored most of their points off of turnovers.”
Taking advantage of many of Friendly’s miscues and porous 2-3 halfcourt defense was TaKayla Ellis, who erupted for 13 of her 17 points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer from well beyond the top of the 3-point arc. A handful of those points came on fastbreak passes from Lucas, who seemed to be all over the court defensively and who had a 3-pointer from the left wing in the third quarter.
“I guess it’s a big win but we still have more games to go,” Lucas said.
Friendly held an 8-7 lead after what was an ugly first eight minutes of the game that saw the teams commit 22 turnovers. Gwynn Park was stuck on two points until the final 12 seconds when Lucas converted an errant teammate’s shot and then nailed a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Patriots pushed back out to a 16-11 lead on a couple of stickbacks by Lewis, but a 3-pointer by Crystal Strother (10 points, 5 rebounds) sparked a 10-3 run for the halftime advantage.
“Hopefully, we won’t get complacent and keep playing our style of basketball, Strother said. “And get some more wins under our belt before meeting Largo and Friendly again at the end of the season.”
Gwynn Park 59, Friendly 43
Gwynn Park 7 14 22 16 — 59
Friendly 8 11 7 17 — 43
Gwynn Park (10-2, 9-0): Crystal Strother 10, Ashleigh Seegers 1, Genesis Lucas 20, Kache’ Fields 6, TaKayla Ellis 17, Tanisha Cardwell 3, Chantelle Gross 2.
Friendly (8-4, 7-2): Janay Carter 9, Marche’ Sisco 6, Breanna Brown 2, Danielle Pray 6, Chayla Lewis 10, Chandler Davenport 2, Damicia Armstrong 8.