DOLA — Hardin Northern built a huge first-half lead, sustained a long run by Perry and pulled away at the end for a 49-37 win in non-conference girls basketball Tuesday night.
“We needed it, especially getting ready to go into the tournament,” Hardin Northern senior Kylee Hooker said.
“I was pleased obviously,” Hardin Northern coach Brady Mast said. “We kind of let it get a little too interesting toward the end. We know we struggle offensively, so our key tonight was to come out with pressure. We played well defensively and that’s what got us the momentum.”
After leading by as many as 21 points in the first half, Hardin Northern (3-15) saw its lead trimmed to four points with three minutes to play in the game.
“I knew we had to hit some shots,” Hooker said. “Our 3s weren’t falling, so (Mast) told us to drive more and we did. We hit some free throws and that helped a lot.”
Hooker drove and was fouled on two of Hardin Northern’s next three possessions. She made all four free throws to stretch the lead to 43-35.
“When I hit the four free throws, I felt the score was at a better distance,” Hooker said.
A layup by Perry senior Lexis Davis made it a two-possession game. The Commodores fouled to stop the clock and Hardin Northern’s Brooklynn Watts made the first free throw and missed the second. Perry grabbed the rebound and went to throw an outlet pass, but Hooker picked it off and went in for a fastbreak layup with one minute to play.
“I just saw the pass coming,” Hooker said. “I didn’t really have a lot of girls on me.”
Hooker scored a game-high 19 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds, despite being one of the shortest players on the court, listed at 5-feet, 3-inches tall.
“She was key from start to finish,” Mast said. “She keys our defense. It’s her aggressiveness. It’s her pressure on the ball that got us going. Her running the offense, her running that slowdown and her making free those was clutch tonight.”
The Polar Bears made three free throws in the final minute, while holding Perry scoreless to salt the game away. Shelby Schlatter made a pair of free throws with 32 seconds remaining to push her to 11 points. She shot 9-of-13 from the free-throw line. The rest of the team was 8-of-18.
“She’s one of our better free-throw shooters,” Mast said. “That’s an area we really struggle at. If you take her out of the equation, we probably shot a pretty poor percentage. She’s just a good shooter. That’s why when we were doing that little stall I wanted to make sure the ball got into her hands. I knew she could step up for us and make that shot.”
Coming into the game, there were two focuses for the Polar Bears – shut down Davis in the post and use their pressure defense to get easy baskets.
“We shut down Davis,” Hooker said. “She only had two points in the first half. We didn’t do as good in the second half, but we definitely shut her down in the first half.”
Davis scored two first-half points on 1-of-5 shooting, but finished with 13 points, including nine during Perry’s long second-half run.
“We started with Brianna Campbell on her and everybody was helping to her,” Mast said. “I think we did a nice job of knowing where she was. In the second half, we kind of lost track of her a little bit. That’s where she stepped up and showed what she’s capable of doing.”
Hardin Northern turned up the defensive pressure early, too. The Polar Bears forced turnovers on Perry’s first two possessions and Perry had more turnovers than points until more than midway through the third quarter.
“Our defense helped a lot,” Hooker said. “We got a lot of layups off of that. We need that on our offense.”
The Polar Bears scored the first four points and jumped ahead 11-2 six minutes into the game. Hardin Northern led 21-9 and then went on a 9-0 run. Schlatter made a pair of free throws, Hooker made a fastbreak layup and a 3-pointer and Watts got a steal and hit a jumper in transition to give the Polar Bears their biggest lead at 30-9.
Hardin Northern finished with 35 points in the first half.
“We don’t score that in some games, that’s what I told them at halftime,” Mast said. “Really it was the defensive pressure. We actually got after it and that’s what makes our offense better. If we have to play in a halfcourt set, we struggle a little bit.”
Campbell made a layup with 6:17 to go in the third quarter to put Hardin Northern ahead 37-16, but the Polar Bears scored only one more point over the next 7:30. During that time, Perry scored 15 points of its own.
“We started to foul a little bit too much at the end of the first half and I didn’t want to put them on the free-throw line,” Mast said. “At the half, we told them to ease up on the pressure a little bit. The slowdown came when Perry made their nice comeback. I knew we were struggling offensively, so I told them to hold the ball a little bit. The slowdown came because Perry stepped up their game and forced us to do that.”
The Polar Bears, who are scheduled to play Perry again in the first round of sectionals, travel to Van Buren on Thursday night.
“We have a winnable game coming up on Thursday,” Hooker said. “Really from here on out, I think all of our games are winnable. This definitely gave us the confidence we needed.”
HARDIN NORTHERN 49, LIMA PERRY 37
PERRY — Taliah Kleman 0 0-0 0, Lexis Davis 6 1-2 13, Alanna Sanks 2 0-0 4, Zahirah Hodges 0 1-5 1, LaTrisha Edmonds 1 0-2 2, Jala Phillips 2 0-0 5, Kyazia Healy 0 0-1 0, Alexis Young 0 8-10 8, Courtney Trent 0 2-2 2, Courtland Fowler 0 0-1 0, Katie Cox 1 0-0 2, Imani Watson 0 0-0 0. Totals 12-44 12-23 37.
HARDIN NORTHERN (3-15) — Brianna Campbell 2 1-4 5, Micheala Curtis 0 0-0 0, Shelby Schlatter 1 9-13 11, Brooklynn Watts 2 2-4 6, Morgan Madison 1 0-0 2, Holly Wilson 3 0-2 6, Kearston Schlatter 0 0-0 0, Kylee Hooker 6 5-8 19, Kamryn Dye 0 0-0 0. Totals 15-47 17-31 49.
P 7 9 13 8 — 37
HN 15 20 3 11 — 49
3-point goals — Perry 1-7 (Phillips); Hardin Northern 2-10 (Hooker 2). Total fouls — Perry 22; Hardin Northern 18. Fouled out — Wilson. Technical foul — Perry coach Herb Lane. Rebounds — Perry 46 (Young 11, Davis 7); Hardin Northern 43 (Hooker 7, S. Schlatter 6). Assists — Perry 6 (Trent 3); Hardin Northern 11 (Watts 3, Wilson 3). Steals — Perry 12 (Young 3); Hardin Northern 17 (Campbell 5). Blocks — Perry 5 (Davis 4, Fowler); Hardin Northern 1 (Wilson). Turnovers — Perry 28; Hardin Northern 19.
By KURT RITZMAN
Times sports editor