After his team’s district semifinal win over Worthington Christian, Cardington girls’ basketball coach Jamie Edwards was immediately devising a plan for his team to compete with defending Division III state champion and perennial powerhouse Africentric.
He talked about the need to break their pressure and turn it into a half-court game, in particular; while also mentioning the importance of his players knowing what to expect from the Nubians after a 70-30 loss to them in last year’s district finals.
For nearly three quarters in Friday’s district final rematch, the coach loved everything he was seeing. An Africentric team that averaged well over 90 points in their first three tournament games struggled to light up the scoreboard. His team broke their press often enough that the Nubians abandoned it for much of the game. Most importantly, Cardington got some hot shooting in the second quarter and was able to take a 22-21 lead into the half and was still tied at 28 with three minutes remaining in the third period.
However, when the final buzzer sounded in what became a 47-35 win by Africentric, Edwards also had to take note of his team’s poor free throw performance (2-of-8) and of a decisive 11-3 run by the Nubians that ended the third period.
“They got us on one good run and we fell apart,” said Edwards. “Who thought we’d be leading at halftime? They forced us into turnovers late, but we were playing on tired legs. We also didn’t hit free throws. That’s been our Achilles heel the whole season. We had hit them our last two games, but not tonight.”
Those tired legs were a result of Africentric’s depth advantage. While the Nubians subbed players in and out with regularity, the Pirates played much of the game with a six-girl rotation. After Africentric finished the third quarter with that run, Cardington only managed four points over the final eight minutes, while struggling to get anything going with the ball.
For most of the game, that was Africentric’s problem. Just three days after putting 96 points on Newark Catholic, they took over three minutes to get their first points on the Ohio Dominican court Friday night. A Sage Brannon basket put Cardington on the board first, but the Nubians scored six straight points. While Kyndall Spires added five points in the quarter, the Pirates still trailed 10-7 after eight minutes.
Africentric opened up a 16-11 lead three minutes into the second quarter, but Brannon connected on three three-pointers over a 70-second span to put the Pirates up 20-19. Spires added a basket to make it a three-point game, but the Nubians got a late basket to close back within one.
“Our 1-3-1 zone slowed them down,” said Edwards in explaining his team’s early success. “We didn’t extend and forced them to shoot threes. We broke their press early. After we broke it three or four times, they broke it off and didn’t press us the whole second quarter.”
The teams traded the lead throughout much of the third quarter, but after a Casey Bertke basket tied the score at 28 with 3:06 remaining in the period, Africentric tallied seven straight points to take their largest lead of the night. Cardington got a basket from Kynlee Edwards and a free throw by Brannon, but two more Nubian baskets put them on top 39-31 with eight minutes left.
“We basically ran six kids,” said Edwards in citing late-game fatigue. “We played Kynlee, Sage and Kyndall the entire game. “I don’t use time outs much, but used four today to give them breaks.”
While Africentric didn’t score from the field in the fourth quarter, they were able to run out the clock and hit their free throws when the Pirates started fouling, allowing them to escape with the win.
Brannon led Cardington with 14 points, including nine on those three three-pointers. While disappointed by the end result, Edwards feels his team’s strong performace against Africentric could set them up for a great year next year, as they return all five starters.
“We’re losing some good seniors, but have a lot coming back,” he said.
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS