Lakota East went into its early season showdown with Mason on Wednesday with wins over McAuley, ranked eighth in the Enquirer’s Division I coaches’ poll, and co-No. 10 Hamilton in the bank.
The experience did little to help the third-ranked Thunderhawks prepare for the withering defense thrown at them by the No. 2 Comets.
Deploying a variety of defenses and trapping, Mason forced Lakota East into 22 turnovers and enjoyed a 28-10 advantage in points off of turnovers in a 57-35 Greater Miami Conference win at Mason.
“Defense is a big part of what we do,” said senior guard Jailyn Mason, who finished with 13 points and took the lead on holding Thunderhawks senior guard Sam Rodgers to nine, 13 below the GMC-leading average of 22.0 she took into the game. “When we scout the other teams, we take the time to figure out their offense. It’s a constant. If it’s not perfect in practice, we do it over.”
Junior forward Samari Mowbray led the Comets with 15 points while senior forward Lauren Van Kluenen logged a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds as Mason (3-1, 1-1) extended its winning streak in the series to seven games, according to the GMC website.
Rodgers, a senior guard, and classmate Tristan Philpot each scored nine points to lead Lakota East (2-1, 1-1).
Mason never trailed and led for the rest of the game after 6-1 freshman Samantha Puisis sank a 3-pointer from the left wing to snap a 4-4 tie with 3:57 left in the first quarter. The Comets forced seven Thunderhawk turnovers while committing only three and taking a 16-8 lead into the second quarter.
The Comets needed the pressure defense to wake up, coach Rob Matula said.
“I don’t think we came out with that concerted effort,” he said. “We were playing hard, but it was like we weren’t mentally there. Once we started getting turnovers and some shots started to go down, that’s when we started getting some excitement.
“We’re pretty long. We have 6-foot guards. When we’re in our 1-2-1-1 press, it takes space and lanes away. One thing we hang our hat on is defense.”
Mason’s pressure is difficult to replicate in practice, Lakota East’s Phillips said.
“They’re big and long,” she said. “We knew that. You have to play through it.”
“It’s nice to have long arms,” Mason said. “We are starting to push it a lot more. We love throwing those long passes. We practice it.”
Mason expanded the lead to 17 points, 27-10, on Mowbray’s layup with 2:09 left in the first half before settling for a 27-12 halftime lead.
Mason’s defense helped forced Lakota East into going just 5-of-20 from the field in the first half, including 0-for-4 on 3-pointers.
They rebounded to shoot 40.9 percent (9-for-22) in the second half, but Mason shot a blistering 54.2 percent (13-of-24) while trying just one 3-point shot and leading by as many as 23 points.
“We’re off to a pretty good start, but I think we’re still mentally down a little,” Phillips said, pointing out the second-half shooting improvement. “I don’t (the Thunderhawks) think they can compete with teams they think are better than us. I don’t think we’re good enough to dig ourselves out of a hole like that against a good team like Mason.”
The teams are scheduled to play a rematch at Lakota East on Jan. 6.
Lakota East (2-1, 1-1 Greater Miami Conference) – Floyd 2 0 4, Rodgers 3 2 9, Kilps 2 0 5, Philpot 3 2 9, Blomer 1 0 2, Azuka 3 0 6 Totals: 14 4 35.
Mason (3-1, 1-1 GMC) – Norton 1 2 5 Mason 6 1 13, Dixon 2 0 4, Mowbray 7 0 15, Puisis 1 1 4, Van Kluenen 4 2 10, Campbell 2 0 4, Fulton 1 0 2. Totals: 24 6 57.
Halftime: Mason, 27-12. 3-pointers: L 3 (Rodgers, Kilps, Philpot), M 3 (Norton, Mowbray, Puisis).