The bread and butter of Garrett’s game has really turned into how their defense can turn into instant offense. On Tuesday night, it kickstarted an early lead against Angola (2-1) and they never gave it up. Garrett (6-0) established themselves as the early team to beat in the NECC with the 56-48 win over a Hornet team that didn’t lose at all against conference foes last season.
Angola’s last loss to a NECC team was on January 12, 2019.
By the time Garrett had jumped out to a 12-5 lead, the Hornets had more turnovers than they did points and the Railroaders were a perfect 6-for-6 from the field. Garrett had to be very aggressive getting there, diving on the floor after loose balls and getting into passing lanes, especially cutting off passes to the post. Those forced turnovers were critical in getting Garrett out in transition where penetration from Nataley Armstrong and Taylor Gerke led to wide open looks inside for Morgan Ostrowski and on the perimeter for Faith Owen.
At the end of the first quarter, the Railroaders were shooting 73 percent from the field and that defense made it all happen, in my humble opinion.
On the other end of the floor, Angola had really no answers early for the dribble penetration. Time and time again Garrett was just able to push the ball at an elevated pace, as coach Bob Lapadot warned us all preseason that they would do.
With 6:35 left in the opening half, Kelham got the chance to get her hands dirty defensively when she cut off an inbounds play that looked like a sure thing Angola basket. Instead, the sophomore snuck in just after the pass made its way into the hands of Megan Nisun and blocked the shot before collecting the loose ball herself and jetting up the floor to draw a foul at the rim and push the Garrett lead to 23-14.
Getting to the free throw line came frequently for the Railroaders. Angola had zero other options unless they wanted to give up easy layups in transition. The Railroaders hit 8-of-10 free throws in the opening 16 minutes of play including their first seven. Even when Angola went into a 2-3 zone to cut off the rim, Garrett was more than capable in hitting open shots including big Owen and Gerke threes in the far corner in the closing minutes.
Angola did fight back with their own defense, as we knew they would. Hanna Knoll stripped the ball from Kelham off the dribble with 3:13 left in the first half. Forcing a couple of turnovers that got Angola right back in the game, 27-22, after trailing by as many as 11 in the quarter. The aforementioned Owen and Gerke triples just pushed it back to 11. Garrett shot 5-of-7 from three point range in the opening half.
While Angola opened the second half playing good keep away from the Garrett defense to get off shots, it didn’t stop Garrett from doing more of that dirty work. Early in the quarter, it was Gerke getting on the floor after an offensive loose ball and helping Garrett extend a possession. Those little things throughout the entire game really pile up and nobody knows that better out of Tuesday night than Angola.
While the third quarter stayed mostly balanced, there was so much more of Gerke’s play to relish in. While she had shown signs in Garrett’s 5-0 start of being a solid force for the Railroaders, Tuesday was certainly a coming out party. Gerke constantly got to the rim, battled against contact, flared out for open jumpers and tried to get involved in every play on the defensive end. Gerke finished her night with a team high and co-game high 22 points.
Closing out the game saw Garrett become more passive offensively, really working the ball for an open shot. Their patience paid off and probably helped refocus them defensively. Their fourth quarter transition and perimeter pressure again forced the Hornets into mistakes and frustrations that just ruined their night.
Ostrowski finished with 13 and five rebounds for Garrett. Hanna Knoll led Angola with 22 points.
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