METROPOLIS — Jeniah Thompson cranked up the throttle in the second half and led Carterville to a 58-54 win over Massac County in a non-conference matchup of thriving girls basketball programs Saturday night.
Massac County (18-11) started the day with an eight-game win streak that included victories over Harrisburg, Mount Vernon and Herrin to name a few. And the Lady Patriots jumped out to a double-digit lead against Carterville but couldn't sustain it.
Thompson, a senior committed to Southern Illinois University, wasn't her team's leading scorer but grabbed every crucial rebound and made all the right passes down the stretch to help the Lady Lions improve to 26-2.
"She got into her next gear and made a lot of big plays for us in the second half," said Carterville coach Matt Crain. "One of her best assets is that when she rebounds the ball, we don't have to outlet it. We're going. She got some rebounds and then made some fantastic passes. We found our legs and started making some shots.
"It just took a little time."
Crain picked up a technical foul before his team had even scored a point and had to sit as Massac County took a 13-3 lead on Farrah Castleman's nifty flip layup with two minutes still left in the first quarter.
The lead was still double digits at 16-6 when Castleman answered a 3-pointer by Abbey Crain with one of her own with 46 seconds left in the opening period.
"Our kids executed the game plan," said Massac County coach Justin Kindle. "We knew against a team like that we wanted to stay inside the 3-point line. I thought we could match up decent with them, but they've just got some great ball players and they're well-coached."
Carterville chipped away in the second quarter and tied the game when Thompson scored and then turned a steal into a layup to knot the game at 18 with just under five minutes left in the half.
But the Lady Patriots stayed in front with a bucket by Cali McCraw and another 3-pointer from Castleman, then after Carterville's Megan Barton scored five straight, the half ended with Massac's Kendra Waldon banking in a shot at the buzzer on an inbounds play to make it 27-23 at the break.
"They've been playing well and I knew coming down here we were going to have a battle on our hands," Matt Crain said. "It was not a surprise."
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Massac County led by as many as eight points twice in the third quarter, first on a basket by Waldon moments after she took a charge and then on freshman Sophie Bormann's only field goal of the game at the 3:57 mark that made it 36-28.
Carterville closed the gap to a point before the last stop on a bucket by Abbey Crain and a shot by Alecia Doyle at the buzzer on a nifty pass from Thompson, who then gave Carterville its first lead with the first points of the fourth quarter.
"We jumped out early and we knew they'd make runs at us," Kindle said. "We sustained the first run but at the end of the day they made a few more plays than us down the stretch and you have to tip your hat to them."
Those last points of the third were the start of a 12-2 run that featured consecutive shots by Doyle and another by Thompson to give the Lady Lions a 49-44 lead. Carterville also caught a break when Abbey Crain grabbed Camryn McBride's jersey on a runout and wasn't called for an intentional foul.
McBride split those ensuing free throws and Thompson picked up her fourth foul on the offensive end, but a missed free throw and three offensive rebounds led to Carterville extending its lead on a putback by Abbey Crain.
The proverbial dagger came with Thompson rebounded a miss by Castleman, went coast-to-coast and dished to Abbey Crain for a layup to make it 54-47.
"She's a Division I player," Kindle said of Thompson. "When the ball is in her hand, it seems like she always makes the right play."
Free throws by Barton and Averi Vanderzille pushed the lead to 10, which became important after Massac scored six points in the final 28 seconds to whittle down the margin.
Abbey Crain finished with 17 points, with eight coming in the third quarter, while Thompson had 16 and Doyle hit double figures with 13. Barton added eight.
"Our seniors stepped up and led the way," Matt Crain said. "Abbey made some shots and Megan was huge down the stretch for us. She picked up the pressure and made some passes difficult. I give the credit to our whole team but those three seniors picked it up a notch and they know how to do that."
Castleman led all scorers with 18 and McCraw had 14 for the Lady Patriots.
"Our kids played well," Kindle said. "They just made a few more plays than we did."