Friday night at Northrop should give any SAC old head some flashbacks. You don’t walk into gyms as loud as Northrop was even when just the lower bowl was full at the very beginning of the Bruins’ girls basketball game against Snider. The vibes, they were immaculate.
And was the hype ever justified as Northrop used a big second half to pick up a 79-70 win.
I could bore you with the back and forth of it all, recount all the plays that made the game a game. Instead, just a quick reminder that when you take two teams that really want it, there can be some magic in the air.
Northrop and Snider girls wanted it. There absolutely was not “she wants it more” or “they are working harder.” Every girl in the rotation for both teams got after it and threw a bit of caution to the wind to make plays. It showed in the first half that was, fairly, turnover laden. Not turnover laden because of big mistakes but because of quality defensive efforts on both sides of the ball.
“I think the key to the game was when Khala Williams-Thomas went in. Her length really seemed to really frustrate Jordyn [Poole] and I think that was a pivotal turning point in the game,” Northrop coach Katie Jackson said.
Snider took the early advantage before Saniya and Nevaeh Jackson buried back to back threes. It was Nevaeh who took control early for Northrop while Saniya fought foul trouble the entire first half. The game stayed tied 17-17 after one and Northrop didn’t get footing again until the 4:17 mark of the second quarter when Riley Pepple came away from a loose ball battle successful and a Snider defensive breakdown allowed her to find Lexi Castator at the rim to take a 25-23 lead.
The Bruins held on and led 29-25 before a Snider run was capped off with a Johnea Donahue reverse to put the Panthers up 32-20. Yet, it was Swynn Jackson getting the last bucket of the half, hitting a free throw with 4.2 seconds left to give Northrop a 35-34 advantage going into the half.
One of the most important and probably underrated points of the first half was the interior play of Brooklyn McLemore. There were times she was more aggressive trying to score but when the senior center got the ball in either the high or low post, she did a great job of not forcing the moments and took time surveying the half court to make the best pass for the Bruins to be able to maintain tempo and not get too sped up at times by the stifling Snider defense.
“Any time you can put 8-9 kids on the floor and you don’t skip a beat, it is going to really help us in the long run. It mattered tonight where I think our bench was a factor compared to Snider. I think that might have been a difference maker,” Katie Jackson said.
As strong as the Snider defense was, the Northrop defense just swung back.
Sure, Snider struck first in the second half as Jordyn Poole watched a play develop, then get broken up, only to just defer to herself and bury a big three pointer. But, Northrop hit harder with an immediate 8-0 run that forced Snider to play the part of scrambler. And boy did the Panthers scramble, diving everywhere for loose balls and really valuing getting possessions. With 2:42 left in the third, Donahue dove out of bounds to save one, then immediately got up off the floor and back into the play where Poole would find her for a big momentum layup.
The Bruins defense, for all of Snider’s strengths, was certainly the more harassing one in the second half. It pushed the Panthers into focusing on beating the Northrop press and attempt to go coast to coast and not get into a half court offense. Still, the Panthers couldn’t get a footing. A Nevaeh Jackson three with 1:48 left in the third extended Northrop’s lead to 50-41.
Jackson was another revelation for the Bruins. Yes, she has had a really solid senior season but when Northrop needed her the most, be it because it was a big game or her sister’s foul trouble, Nevaeh Jackson took control and reminded everyone watching just how powerful she can be as a do it all wing that will score big too while still doing all the intangible things.
The fourth quarter though, that was all about Khala Williams-Thomas; not to say that the whole game wasn’t about her. It was a coming of age performance from the freshman, who proved that she could really survive and thrive in trial by fire moments. While her length and defense was big all game against Poole, it was a block on a Poole three point attempt with 4:47 remaining that really put an exclamation on Williams-Thomas’ huge night.
“I trust her and that is a big thing. She plays with a lot of freedom but she is playing with a lot of senior leadership who have really welcomed her coming into the program and I think that matters,” Katie Jackson said. “I think that matters to play for a coach who believes in you and seniors that embrace you; you play with a lot of confidence and I think that showed tonight.”
“Super respect for Reggie Tharp, Jordyn, Nae Nae, that program; just a long history with the girls through Always 100,” Katie Jackson said. “just a great win, great atmosphere, a lot of talented kids on the floor. But just four our program, as far a prepping for the rest of the season, it was just a great win for all of them.”
It helped Northrop too push their lead to as many as 19 before Snider pushed back. In the end though, the Bruins proved too patient and wise to give up their advantage and it keeps them lined up for the big one: a January 27 regular season finale against Homestead that is likely to decide the SAC champion.
Nevaeh Jackson finished with a team high 23 points while Williams-Thomas added 18 points and Saniya Jackson scored 13. Poole led all scorers with 30 for Snider while Donahue added 21.
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