For Halfway High School girls basketball coach Eric Ingram, the last 20 seconds of his team’s Friday, Dec. 20, 44-42 win home against Niangua felt like 10 minutes.
The Lady Cardinals, who battled back from a small deficit in the fourth quarter to send Friday’s game into overtime, were ahead by just a handful of points.
Behind scores from Madison Higginbotham and Kendall Morris, the Lady Cardinals scored a narrow lead in the extra frame’s closing seconds.
“We get them to take a shot, we get a board,” Ingram recalled. “We come down, tie it and end up taking the lead. Then, we call a timeout to set up an inbound play.”
The play, though, didn’t go off as planned. A delay put the Lady Cardinals on defense after the team didn’t set up its screen.
“We just froze,” Ingram said. “I thought I got a timeout called fast enough, but I didn’t.”
The misfire gave Niangua possession and a new chance to steal the game. In the huddle, Ingram said, the team concocted a plan to hold the lead. The Lady Cardinals had played zone defense all night. For those final seconds, he said they switched to man-to-man coverage.
“I could tell (the other coach) was drawing up a zone play,” Ingram said. “It was a real chess match.”
Just before play resumed, he imparted his team with two firm rules.
“We cannot give up a trey, and we cannot have an and-1,” he said. “If they make 2 points and we go to a second overtime, so be it. But if you’re going to foul them, the ball can’t get above her shoulders.”
In the end, the Lady Cardinals’ held their ground. Ingram singled out Higginbotham, who led both teams with 18 points.
“She said, ‘Coach I’m not shooting tonight, because it’s just not going in for me,’” Ingram said. “Then, she got 18 points.”
Higginbotham hit a pivotal 3-pointer in the third quarter to help the team build momentum, Ingram said.
The coach said the Lady Cardinals have a week off planned for Christmas before hitting the court hard for practice ahead of a Monday, Jan. 6, home matchup with Pleasant Hope. Tipoff is at 5:30 p.m.
“It was crazy,” Ingram said, reflecting on the win. “It was hectic. (Niangua is) a good team and it was a well-fought game.”
Cards bounce back
Halfway High School boys basketball put in a dominant defensive performance to win 64-36 over Niangua Friday.
Looking over his team’s 2019-20 season so far, first-year coach Jeremy Cook said one matchup continues to stick with them.
The Cardinals fell 90-55 to Chadwick on Thursday, Dec.12. The two teams had previously faced off for a 2018-19 district championship earlier this year, with Chadick winning 74-61.
“We kind of got our tails kicked by Chadwick, and we’ve been in the gym talking about how we want to be the ones dictating the tempo, whether that’s fast or slow,” Cook said. “Tonight, we wanted it to be a fast game. I think we did a pretty good job imprinting on this game.”
Halfway led 36-15 by halftime. Trenton McCarthy led the Cardinals with 23 points.
Cook gave credit to the team working as a whole. Halfway debuted its full-court press defense to a resounding success, he said.
“I think it’s going to be an asset for us moving forward,” he said. “This was a solid team effort. Even the guys that didn’t score a lot, they still hit their rotations on defense.”
Halfway next faces Pleasant Hope at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan 6. Hopefully, Cook said, the rest of the season holds more opportunities to put the team’s hardworking defense on display.
“(Halfway has) had a lot of success the last couple years,” he said. “Coming in as the new guy and changing everything we were doing defensively has been a big ask, but this team has put in the work and it’s shown.”