Layden, McKenna.jpg

McKenna Layden

MARION — Northwestern’s girls basketball team started strong at Eastbrook Friday night.

And after weathering a long scoring drought and big counter punch from the Class 2A No. 4-ranked Panthers, the Tigers finished even stronger.

Northwestern saw an early 8-0 advantage evaporate in an instant as Eastbrook reeled off 20 unanswered points on the way to a 20-12 halftime lead.

The Tigers clawed back to make it a game in the third quarter, outscoring the Panthers 16-9 in the period and getting within a point, 29-28, on Ashley Newell’s buzzer-beater.

Trailing 32-30 with 4:58 left to play, freshman Anna Bishir’s 3-pointer put Northwestern (12-3) up for good at 33-32. The Tigers kept Eastbrook (12-2) off the scoreboard the rest of the way, forcing the Panthers into four turnovers down the stretch and pulling out a 37-32 win.

“You could tell the momentum was definitely swinging back in our direction down the stretch,” Northwestern coach Kathie Layden said. “I told the girls it’s important to play with confidence, but of course that’s easier said than done but when shots start falling. You started seeing the confidence come back and then it was kind of the flipside for [Eastbrook].”

Ashley Newell hit the Tigers’ first shot attempt of the night when she swished a 3-pointer just :18 into the game. Lexi Hale followed with a hoop and Bishir connected from deep for the early 8-0 lead with 5:30 showing.

That’s when Eastbrook struck, scoring 11 straight out of a timeout to close out the quarter with an 11-8 lead after McKenna Layden’s half-court 3-pointer as time expired was waved off.

“We called that timeout and reminded the girls that basketball is a game of runs and that it was time for us to go on ours and that it’s all about stops and scores,” Eastbrook coach Jeff Liddick said. “And they did a heck of a job right there scoring those next 20 points.”

The Panthers then scored the first nine points of the second quarter for a 20-8 lead, the largest of the game.

Hoops by Berkley Wray and Bailey Henry got Northwestern within eight points at the half. Those two baskets ended a Tiger scoring drought that lasted more than ten minutes.

“They went on that run and we really didn’t have an answer for them,” Kathie Layden said. “Their offense is so deliberate that we had to really contain the dribbler. That was the adjustment we tried to make at halftime and I thought we did a much better job of containing and closing up the gaps on our own.”

The Tigers clamped down on Eastbrook and also got a big offensive boost from McKenna Layden in the third quarter. Held scoreless on just a single field goal attempt in the first half, McKenna Layden scored 11 of her game-high 13 points in the third quarter to fuel Northwestern’s comeback.

She was responsible for the first three of four consecutive three-point plays by the Tigers, cutting the Panthers’ lead from 10 points to three. After netting a triple, she was fouled on her next two baskets, converting the free throw each time.

“At halftime we had a talk about finding McKenna on the floor with screens and getting yourself looks with that screen but also involving her offensively,” Kathie Layden said.

Bishir added a hoop-and-harm that made it 29-26 with :20 showing in the quarter and Newell’s buzzer-beater set the stage for Northwestern to take control in the final quarter as Eastbrook went cold down the stretch, connecting on just 1-of-11 shooting over the final eight minutes.

“We were really patient on offense in the first half,” Liddick said. “We were getting it right where we wanted to get it in their zone and it was breaking them down and creating some open looks for us on the perimeter, some drive opportunities for us.

“Then in the second half we got away from that. And you’ve got to attribute a lot of that to Northwestern and how aggressive they came out in the second half, both on the offensive and the defensive end.”

Bishir scored nine points for the Tigers, and Newell added seven.

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