For the first half Tuesday night, Salem’s varsity girls basketball team played like the KLAA Central Division champions they are.
The Rocks went into halftime of the KLAA tournament opener enjoying a lopsided lead of 26-9 over Westland John Glenn.
Yet Salem wound up hanging on by a thread down the stretch as the Rockets outscored the Rocks 29-8 over the final 10 minutes — ultimately prevailing 40-38.
“We kind of got complacent,” Salem head coach Lindsay Klemmer said. “And we can’t get complacent against anybody.
“I’m a coach that preaches heart and hustle and I think we got outhustled in the second half. That disappoints me and it won’t happen again.”
Good thing for the Rocks (13-4 overall) that senior post Shara Long could not be stopped. Long tallied a career-best 24 points, mostly around the rim, and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“I got a few offensive rebounds, good passes from my guards,” Long said. “I had a mismatch, the girl was smaller than me, but I wouldn’t have been as dominant as I was if I didn’t get great passes.”
Contributing nine points and a number of on-the-mark dishes to Long was senior point guard Jamyra Wilson. Junior guard Zoe Talley played well, scoring five points.
Going to work
“She had a great game, she was dominant,” said Klemmer, about Long. “I knew the biggest thing was to get her the ball inside because they were undersized.
“She’s just playing really well and her strength hurt them quite a bit. Our guards did a great job getting her the ball, and without a double team I tell her to go to work every day. That’s what she did.”
Leading John Glenn (7-11) with 11 points was junior forward Kimah Stribling, who buried a pair of treys late in the third quarter when the Rockets went on a 10-0 run to close out the frame.
That closed Salem’s once-comfortable lead to 32-19 entering the fourth.
John Glenn closed the gap to 40-38 with three seconds left, following a pair of free throws by junior forward Nadia Reed (eight points).
Then with 1.8 seconds left, Wilson missed a pair of free throws. But Salem senior wing Hayley Rogers pulled down the key offensive rebound to enable the Rocks to run out the clock.
“Without a doubt, we can play with Salem,” Rockets head coach Derrick Jordan said. “The fourth quarter showed that. But, as I tell my girls every day, free throws and layups decide games and in the fourth quarter we missed six free throws. We lost by two.”
Also scoring eight points for John Glenn was sophomore guard Arienana Hassan.
Big run by Salem
Salem jumped out to a 10-4 lead in the first quarter, and held a 12-6 edge after the opening stanza.
A 3-ball by Stribling cut that to 12-9 early in the second, but the Rocks scored the final 14 points of the quarter.
Long registering four layups — one off a nifty dish inside from Talley — and Wilson helped the cause with a beautiful runner through the lane.
The second half opened with more of the same for Salem, as Long tallied a pair of field goals and junior guard Leah Moss chipped in with a basket to open up a 26-point advantage (32-9).
That’s when the tables turned, beginning with Stribling’s trey. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they fell into too deep of a hole to get out of.
“We got to learn how to come out in the first quarter with the same intensity we have in the fourth quarter. Once we do that, I think we’ll be able to compete.”
According to Klemmer, whose team will host South Lyon East at 7 p.m. Thursday in a second-round game, some areas need to be cleaned up before that game.
“We just let them get off a bunch of open shots and layups and we weren’t playing team defense the way we normally do,” she said. “I wasn’t happy with it. I’m glad we came away with the win, but we need to be able to step up to the next level in order to get through this tournament.”
S.L. EAST 40, CANTON 27: On Tuesday at South Lyon East, the Chiefs could not get open shots to fall and it cost them in this KLAA tournament opener.
Scoring 10 points for Canton was Erin Hult, with Madison Archibald and Brianna Finn tallying six and five points, respectively.
Gabbi Bird led East with 20 points.
“We played hard, we executed, we just did not make shots tonight,” Canton head coach Kevin Palmer said. “Layups weren’t falling. Open jumpers weren’t falling, and in the game of basketball you got to be able to make plays.”
The Chiefs were hampered by an injury sustained recently by senior Alanna Brown, who is out for about two weeks, Palmer said.
He added that further compounding matters was the fact Brown’s replacement, Bre Donehue, also got injured.
Canton will face Westland John Glenn on Thursday in the tourney’s second round.