Coach Rob Briles didn’t waste any time coming up with the key to Thursday night’s win for his Delsea Regional High School girls’ basketball team.
“When defend became a verb in the second half,” he said.
And there was no doubt that it was an action verb.
The Crusaders rode a strong defensive effort in the final 16 minutes and some timely 3-point shooting to a 59-48 Valentine’s Day victory over Buena in a nonleague game.
Delsea, which started the season at 1-6, hit the .500 mark for the first time, leveling off at 11-11.
Always known for its work in the defensive end, the Crusaders were passive in their pursuit of the basketball in the opening half. It didn’t help that Buena (11-11) shot the lights out in the two quarters, hitting seven 3-point shots.
While the offense put up an impressive 31 points in the first 16 minutes, Delsea still found itself trailing by six at the break.
“That’s a ton of points for us, offense definitely wasn’t the problem,” Briles said. “We defended in the second half. That’s what we need to do to win basketball games. If we don’t play defense like that, it’s going to be softball and track season for these girls real soon.”
Delsea’s intensity on defense was certainly heightened in the second half. The Crusaders did a better job at disrupting the Buena offense by attacking the ball and pressuring the shooters. Sophomore guard Asya Alba, whose hustling style pumped energy into her team, provided big plays on defense all night.
“Defense is what is going to win us games, just like it did in the second half,” senior guard Amanda Schmidt said.
On the other end, Delsea’s offense fired 3-point shots like Cupid shoots arrows on his special day.
The Crusaders knocked down nine triples, including three in a pivotal 13-0 run to open the fourth quarter that turned a three-point deficit into a 52-42 lead.
“That was a crazy second half for us,” said Schmidt, who is among the state’s leaders in 3-point baskets with 66, which included eight in one game earlier this season. “It was probably our best (3-point shooting) game as a team all season.”
Senior Sarah Stuart put the fourth-quarter comeback in motion, converting 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor. She finished with 16 points, including four long-distance shots.
Schmidt was fouled on a 3-point attempt and sank two foul shots while Taylor Christina knocked down a 3-pointer on the following possession.
Schmidt led all scorers with 19 points, which included three triples. Alba and Christina each had a 3-pointer and finished with 14 and 10, respectively.
“We have to shoot 3’s, our best offensive players are perimeter shooters,” Delsea coach Rob Briles said.
The intermission came at the worst time for Buena, which put together one of its best 16-minute stretches in recent memory.
The Chiefs, who tallied 72 points the night before, rung up 37 in the first half against Delsea.
The second half brought much different results for Buena as it couldn’t keep up the sizzling pace. The Chiefs converted just 3-of-18 shots for the field and only had 11 points in the final 16 minutes.
“We just ran out of steam,” Buena coach Misty Russo said. “We stepped up to the challenge in the first half, we just couldn’t keep it going.”