Second half surge gives Bluffton ACAC Tournament win over South Adams, 45-31

BLUFFTON – The first half wasn’t pretty, but Bluffton made up for it in an aggressive third quarter in their 45-31 win over South Adams on Tuesday. The Tigers got aggressive in the post in that third quarter to secure the victory, dominating the paint offensively and defensively. The win avenged a three point regular season loss to the Starfires.

The first round ACAC Tournament win earned Bluffton a Friday semi final game opposite Woodlan. That game will be played at South Adams High School.

“It gives our girls a lot of confidence. It gives our girls thoughts on ‘ok, this is what our team can look like if we put it together,’” said Bluffton coach Karl Grau. “We’ve been trying to find those pieces and tonight we were able to put it together.”

South Adams came out of the gate aggressive and pushing the pace. They attacked the offensive glass, including grabbing four offensive rebounds on just their third possession of the game and immediately forcing Bluffton to rethink their lineup plans. That aggression led to Bluffton fouling four times in the first three minutes, including two on Ashtyn Morris.

Bluffton stole momentum back, still early on, with an Emme Boots and-one at the four minute mark after a Meryl Frank rip away steal set up the Bluffton possession. It pushed the Tigers ahead 9-5; they would extend that lead to 11-5 after one.

Bluffton coach Karl Grau talks to his team during a January 14 ACAC Tournament game against South Adams.

South Adams opened the second quarter scoring with a three from Madi Smith, but most of the frame was filled with trading of turnovers. Nobody would score for another two and a half minutes until Boots took the ball coast to coast and nailed seven foot runner. The inability to establish pace in the second quarter with turnovers and missed shots was clearly frustrating for both teams.

“We weren’t really reading what they were doing and we didn’t have anyone leading us to say ‘ok, let’s get in this,’” Grau said. “We took some poor shots and that caused part of our struggle. The good news is we were able to hang in there with our defense and it allowed us to hang around.”

South Adams was able to pull back into the game at the free throw line, showing how much those early four fouls against Bluffton came back to haunt them in the second as the Starfires paraded to the line. Loshe’s missed buzzer beater left the game tied at 13 at the half.

With 4:36 left in the third, Bluffton’s offense started to find holes during their sets. Sam Meyer found Boots in the high post, who then drew a double team from South Adams and was able to find a gap down to Zoe Barger at the rim for a score. Boots then went to the line on back to back possessions after drawing fouls in transition. The Tigers extended their lead to 22-16 with 3:19 to play by again rotating the ball around until they could find Barger in the post for a strong basket, forcing a South Adams time-out as they attempted to regroup. But on the next possession, Boots again weaved around a group of Starfire defenders for another score.

“Emme played with a lot of poise tonight. She has been pushing so hard all season. Tonight she played really, really well for us and was a good steady force for us,” Grau said.

Bluffton’s Meryl Frank dribbles the ball against the defense of South Adams’ Kristen Wynn during January 14’s ACAC Tournament game.

Frank put an exclamation point on the quarter with a three to beat the third quarter buzzer, extending the Bluffton lead to a then game high nine points. Olivia King added another three to extend the lead to 12 briefly at the 6:30 mark of the fourth, but Loshe fired back with a triple of her own.

Back to back threes from Loshe and Smith near the 4:30 mark got South Adams back into firing distance at 33-27. Bluffton rebounded again by going to their post play where Barger spent the second half looking extremely comfortable on both ends of the court.

“First half was a struggle on the boards. Second half, we put a body on somebody and we were able to be a lot tougher and scrappier,” Grau said. “In the second half, we were much better moving our feet and staying in front of the ball.”

With the fouls heavily on their favor, Bluffton marched to the line themselves at the end of the fourth to close things out.

Boots led the Tigers with a game high 18 points, followed by 12 from Barger and seven from King. South Adams was led by Loshe’s 12 points.

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