The Ursuline basketball team learned a very valuable lesson on Wednesday night.
The Raiders can win a game without a big night from their best player.
Adrianna Hahn was in foul trouble all night, and eventually fouled out with 4:56 to play. But freshman Maggie Connolly hit three huge free throws in the final minute as No. 1 Ursuline held on for a 40-35 home victory over No. 2 Sanford.
The Raiders, ranked 18th nationally by USA Today, won their 14th straight and finished the regular season at 19-1. But they had to do it mostly without Hahn, the two-time reigning Delaware Player of the Year. The Villanova signee missed most of the second and third quarters and finished with just nine points.
“I got in foul trouble really early in the game, and my team knew that they just had to take it to them,” Hahn said. “[Alisha Lewis] does great driving and taking care of the ball when I’m not in there. Maggie hit some 3s and got to the basket. Our posts were doing awesome. The rest of my teammates did a great job tonight.”
Adrianna Hahn takes the court as she introduced with the rest of the Raiders as they get set to take on Sanford in a matchup of the two top-ranked teams in the state in Wilmington Wednesday.
The defending state champion Warriors (16-3) had their chances, but couldn’t convert late and saw their 13-game winning streak end. Sanford has one game remaining – at home against Caesar Rodney on Monday – before the DIAA Girls Basketball Tournament begins March 3.
“We just didn’t do a couple of little things, but we’ll shore them up,” Warriors coach Marcus Thompson said. “That’s why you play this game. When you’re going against a very good team in their gym, to come out here and get a win is going to be really tough.”
Ursuline forced turnovers, beat Sanford down the court on fast breaks and shared the ball well on the way to a 12-2 lead after one quarter. Alisha Lewis’ bank shot made it 14-2, but when Hahn left the game it was a different story.
Taylor Samuels, Chrishyanah Alston and Hadiya Tucker each scored four points in a 12-0 Warriors run that tied it at 14. But the Raiders pulled it back together, taking a 21-16 halftime lead on Connolly’s 3-pointer from the right corner.
Hahn hit the first bucket of the second half, then went to the bench again. Ursuline handled her absence better this time, as Lewis drove for a layup and Kryshell Gordy made two free throws for a 30-22 lead with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
“The last two games that we played, both teams – St. Elizabeth and St. Mark’s – made a strong effort to take Adrianna out of the game,” Noonan said. “Those games always prepare you for later in the season, and they certainly prepared us for tonight.”
The Raiders had to be prepared, because their lead was only 36-30 when Hahn went out for good. Ursuline had only one field-goal attempt the rest of the game – a missed 3-pointer – but somehow held on.
Lauren Park’s 3-point attempt rimmed out for Sanford, but Tucker turned the rebound into a three-point play to pull the Warriors within 37-35 with 36 seconds to play. Connolly went to the foul line with 28 seconds left, but missed the first of two.
“It was a big shot, and my teammates were really encouraging,” the freshman said of the second free throw. “They really helped me out with it.”
Connolly made it, then grabbed the rebound on a Sanford miss and made two more free throws for a 40-35 lead with 13.4 seconds to go.
“It was big,” Connolly said. “It was a five-point game then, so we just had to get a stop on ‘D.’ The team did a really good job on defense.”
The Warriors missed a 3-pointer, and Ursuline’s Alyssa Irons secured the rebound to end it.
“We knew we had to make our layups, make our foul shots and be intense on defense,” Thompson said. “We did one of those three. We didn’t make our free throws like we needed to in the last two minutes, and we missed some crucial layups.”
Tucker led Sanford with 13 points. The Raiders got nine from Connolly, eight from Lewis and five points and seven rebounds from Gordy.
“Big minutes, big spots, big plays,” Noonan said of Connolly and Lewis, an eighth-grader. “As a coach, you’re really, really pleased.”
Both teams made mistakes late, feeling the pressure of the big occasion. But the Raiders were thrilled to win while playing most of the way without their senior leader.
“The only way to learn and the only way to get better is for that to happen to you,” Noonan said. “… Sometimes, you learn those lessons in a loss. Tonight, we learned those lessons in a win. We’re pretty happy about that.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ