EAST LANSING – At the end of last season, East Lansing girls basketball coach Rob Smith gave Jaida Hampton the responsibility of being a team captain.
Smith was preparing Hampton, then a two-year varsity standout as a sophomore, for the future, as the 5-foot-11 forward was being groomed, along with guard Amelia McNutt, to lead the Trojans during her junior year.
Hampton accepted the responsibility back then, and she’s helped East Lansing get off on the right foot to start the season.
The junior scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds Tuesday night as the Trojans outlasted Haslett, 60-50, at East Lansing High School.
“I feel like I did bring that (leadership) in with me this season knowing that I’m one of the oldest on the team,” said Hampton, who is averaging 11.8 points per game so far this season.
The Trojans (3-1) were in a rut to start Tuesday’s contest, as the Vikings (3-2) took an 8-4 lead into the second quarter. East Lansing finally started to find some fluidity when junior guard Aazhenii Nye, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, knocked down two free throws to ignite a 17-4 run.
Hampton scored four points during the spurt, which included the team’s second field goal of the game.
“When they’re on their run, we know we have to punch back. We can’t let them keep coming at us,” Hampton said. “Our coach talked about adversity, and when that’s happening, we have to make sure our energy is up and make sure that everyone is going.”
Haslett started to stumble midway through second quarter when freshman forward Imania Baker picked up her third foul just three minutes in. Baker scored nine of the Vikings’ 12 points before picking up the critical foul and first-year coach Ross Baker believes it halted the team’s momentum.
“We really wanted to make East Lansing play at our pace, and in order to do that, we needed that post presence inside,” Baker said. “I thought we did a good job of going into her … but once she got in foul trouble, we lost that post presence.
“Give East Lansing credit. They’re very well-coached. They spread you out, they’re quick and they don’t miss free throws.”
The Trojans, who took a 23-19 lead into halftime, extended their lead to nine with a 5-0 run to start the second half. But Haslett combated with an 8-0 run, which was sparked by Imania Baker, who finished with a team-high 13 points, to cut its deficit to one. She fouled out midway through the third quarter.
East Lansing took advantage of Baker’s absence and ended the third quarter by outscoring the Vikings, 11-7, down the stretch.
“We looked a little sluggish out there tonight,” Smith said. “It’s going to start with conditioning, training really hard and buying in to the strategies and philosophies that we’re going to need to use defensively to negate our size disadvantage.”
The two teams traded buckets for most of the fourth quarter, and the Trojans hit 13 of 19 free throws to close it out.
McNutt scored 12 points for East Lansing and freshman Sanaya Gregory added 10 points.
Freshman forward Olivia Green scored 12 points and hauled in eight rebounds for Haslett, and senior Sydnee Dennis scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.