JACKSON CENTER — Lehman Catholic’s girls basketball schedule was filled with breaks in the first six weeks of the season. The squad is hoping for more consistency during its final 12 games of regular season in the next five weeks.
The Cavaliers and Jackson Center were both inconsistent in several areas in a nonconference game on Thursday. But Lehman was able to use a bunch of steals early in the fourth quarter to power a 6-0 run that helped secure a 43-35 win.
Jackson Center cut a 10-point lead by Lehman down to six points in the final two minutes of the third quarter. The Cavaliers (5-5) switched to a full-court press that caused several consecutive turnovers by Jackson Center and helped fuel the 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 42-28.
Lehman coach Craig Hall said speeding up Jackson Center was the main benefit of the full-court press.
“They tend to think if we’re not getting a steal every other time, our press isn’t working,” Hall said of Lehman’s players. “I explained to them after the game that we’re not going to get a steal every time. That’s not what we’re after. We just want to control the pace of the game a little bit. It’s a high-energy defense, and that’s our style.
“They have to learn it’s not going to be a fast-break opportunity every time. Once they start buying into that, we’ll be better off.”
Lehman’s 15 steals were the statistical highlight among other struggles. The team shot 28 percent (13 for 46) from the field, 53 percent (16 for 30) from the free-throw line and committed 13 turnovers.
Hall attributed some of that to Jackson Center’s defense and 6-foot-0 junior center Katie Clark, who scored 13 points, had at least 10 rebounds and proved to be a roadblock for Lehman in the post all night.
“We’re dealing with some players with the flu and stuff, but no excuses,” Hall said. “… (Jackson Center) is physical. It’s typical Shelby County (Athletic League) ball. We knew that going into it. It’s going to be physical, and we have to find a way to get our kids mad in physical games. They don’t get upset if they get hit. Not retaliate, but hold your ground.
“It was a physical game down low. Their post girl, we started playing behind her, and she manhandled us. When we started playing in front of her, we did a nice job.”
The defeat was the fifth in sixth games for Jackson Center (3-8), which has already surpassed last season’s win total. Though fourth-year coach Jeff Reese was disappointed with sloppy play that occurred in spots on Thursday, he’s been pleased with the squad’s improvement.
“There’s definitely progress, but one thing that we keep preaching is effort,” Reese said. “We’ve got to be able to give effort for the entire game, not just 10-second spurts or short spurts. We need to put together an entire game of every kid giving much effort as they have.”
“We had basically one day of practice since our last game before this, being off (New Year’s Day),” Hall said. “… There’s been a lot of breaks, but hopefully now we’ll get some consistency and some good practices in. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to go.”
Lehman junior forward Anna Ciancolo scored a game-high 16 points and had six rebounds. Senior forward Lauren McFarland scored nine points and had seven rebounds while senior guard Hope Anthony scored eight points and had eight rebounds and three steals. Senior point guard Rylie McIver had eight steals, five rebounds and three assists and scored three points.
“We’re doing a decent job getting shots, but we’ve got to do a better job defensively,” Hall said. “… We’re going to get the points, and it can come from four or five different players. You can’t key on one of our girls, because we’re so quick. We’re going to get the points, we’ve just got to get the stops.”
The teams started off slow and played to a 5-5 tie in the first quarter. Lehman started the second quarter on a 10-0 run, which McIver capped off with a steal and score with 4:15 left. The Tigers responded with a 9-0 run that was capped by a put-back by Clark.
“Katie’s incredibly strong,” Reese said. “They didn’t have the matchup that could handle (Clark) by themselves. She did a nice job of getting to the block, making herself known and putting some good shots up for us.
“… They definitely could have pulled away early, but Ava Winner came in and hit a nice 3 to help pick us up and help us get going.”
The Cavaliers increased their lead to 23-16 by halftime thanks to a pair of free throws by McFarland and a basket by Cianciolo in the last eight seconds of the second quarter. Clark made two consecutive baskets and Ashley Mullenhour added another to pull Jackson Center within 27-24 with about 4:30 left.
Lehman scored the next six points, with four coming on a pair of foul shots and a basket by McFarland. The Tigers scored two late baskets to pull within six points by the end of the quarter but could hardly get the ball across half court in the first four minutes of the fourth.
“I don’t know how many turnovers we had, but it was too many,” Reese said. “We did give them 30 attempted free throws, and putting them on the free-throw line that much isn’t going to help. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the ball and keeping them off the line. Those were easy points we’re giving up.”
Lehman will host Marion Elgin in a Northwest Central Conference game on Saturday while Jackson Center will travel to Fairlawn for an SCAL game.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.