Like many close games, this one came down to free throws.
The Lebanon Warriors overcame a double-digit first half deficit with stiff defense and clutch free throw shooting as they came from behind to stun the Churchill Lancers 56-53.
“I think we grew up a little tonight. I’m proud of the whole team and how they stayed in it and kept going all the way through, ” coach Mardy Benedict said.
It looked as though free throws would be the Warriors undoing early as they mounted their comeback. Trailing 32-21 going into the third quarter, the Warriors missed seven from the charity stripe.
What stands out is how many they made.
“The funny thing is we shoot well in practice. It’s the mental side of it. They just have to believe they are going to do it and then they have get that confidence,” Benedict said.
The Warriors made 13 free throws in the second half including two from Makenna Slavenski with three seconds on the clock to give the Warriors the decision.
“I was really nervous but I knew my team was depending on me. It’s good to see it come through when it mattered,” Slavenski said.
Lebanon had been in a zone defensively through much of the first half but Benedict knew he needed to make a change to get his team back into it. The Warriors ratcheted up the defense in the second half, forcing the Lancers to make mistakes and allow Lebanon to claw back into it.
“We were putting pressure on them and I didn’t want to stay in the zone and let them pass it around. We had to get after it and that was a key there,” Benedict said.
After a rough first half, a pair of senior forwards asserted themselves in the post as the Lancers went with a five guard lineup.
Lebanon saved their best basketball for the fourth quarter. Trailing 41-34 entering the quarter, Lebanon held Churchill without a field goal for more than the first four minutes.
Molly Aranda found her footing in the third and dominated in the fourth scoring 16 of her team high 18 points after the break.
“In the first half I struggled a lot and couldn’t finish my shots. The second half I came out with more energy and just played,” Aranda said.
Working in concert with her was Bryn Gerson who joined Aranda as the only other Warrior in double figures with 13.
“Last year we wouldn’t have been able to do that. If we were down we wouldn’t have been able to get back. We came determined out of the locker room after half,” Gerson said.
The Warriors pulled even with Churchill multiple times in the fourth but seemed unable to get a lead.
Following a drive to the hoop from Churchill’s Isis Smith, the Lancers led by 4 with 2:30 to go in the game. Smith would miss her free throw to keep the Warriors alive and that’s when they started to assert themselves in the post.
Gerson and Aranda combined for 15 of Lebanon’s 20 points in the quarter and Lebanon escaped with their first win of the year.