LANSING – The Waverly girls basketball team walked into Gannon Gymnasium on the campus of Lansing Community College Tuesday afternoon looking to build on their strong start under first-year coach John Schweitzer.
The Warriors left campus with a piece of history.
Behind 19 points from junior forward Alisia Smith, Waverly pulled out a 39-37 victory over Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills in the 17th annual Holiday Hoops Invitational.
Waverly’s game was the first-ever girls contest played in the showcase.
“I had no idea,” said Schweitzer on his team playing in the first girls game of the invitational. “We saw nothing (on Ottawa Hills), but we played some scrimmages on the west side of the state and there was a lot of pressure. We knew they were going to be aggressive on the ball.”
The Warriors (6-1) were missing primary ball-handler and 3-point threat Shadaira McCarty, who is out indefinitely, against a guard-driven Bengals team that forced several Waverly turnovers throughout the game.
However, in her absence, Schweitzer relied heavily on his standout frontcourt duo of Alisia Smith and Malin Smith, as he has most of the season. And with their team trailing 33-32 at the end of the third quarter, the tandem outscored Ottawa Hills, 6-4, in the fourth quarter to help pull out the victory.
Malin Smith finished the game with 13 points and three blocks.
“We lost a big component in what we do in (McCarty),” Schweitzer said, “and what I was so proud of today was how our girls played out of position and covered for her.”
The matchup was a battle of styles, as the Warriors’ interior-driven offense squared up against the jump shooting of the Bengals. The Smith duo along with senior forward Mariyah Moore combined to score 21 of the team’s 22 first-half points from inside the paint or at the free throw line.
Waverly went the entire game without converting a jumper shot.
“Shadaira is a big help, and we knew that we needed to step up and get the ball inside so that we could execute,” said 6-foot-2 Alisia Smith, who also recorded three blocks and three steals in the game.
Ottawa Hills was carried by junior guard Heavenly Abneyp, who scored a team-high 12 points. Midway through the second quarter, with the Bengals down by eight, Abneyp hit back-to-back 3-pointers and sparked a 9-0 run that gave her team its first lead, 19-18, since the game’s opening basket.
The junior also helped ignite another 9-0 run late in the third quarter which handed her team the lead heading into the game’s final eight minutes.
“We knew it was going to be sloppy, but we just knew we had to fight through it,” said Moore, who had a big defensive tip early in the fourth quarter and hit the free throw that gave her team a 39-37 lead with seconds remaining. “With Shadaira being gone I think we had more motivation to go out there and play like a team, step up and do what we can do.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.