Chantay Caron’s free throw with 3.5 seconds remaining gave the Free State girls basketball team a one-point lead and proved to be the game-winning basket Tuesday night against visiting Shawnee Mission South.
Her steal on the ensuing in-bounds pass, however, is what Firebirds coach Bryan Duncan wanted to talk about afterward.
“More important than (the free throw), she made a nice defensive stop on the last play,” said Duncan, whose team overcame a second-half SM South surge to walk away with a 29-28 home victory.
Defense, certainly, was the theme during a game in which the two teams combined for just 57 points, and Free State’s defensive effort proved especially stout for much of the evening.
The Firebirds forced 15 turnovers, held the Raiders to 8-of-29 shooting from the field (28 percent) and allowed just 10 first-half points to overcome a shaky offensive performance and improve to 10-5 this season.
SM South looked particularly unfit to deal with the post presence of Free State 6-foot-5 center Ashli Hill, who scored just five points but grabbed six rebounds and blocked five shots while essentially taking away the Raiders’ inside game.
“I think our defense is what won it for us,” said Caron, a senior forward who finished with 14 points and four rebounds. “We got some good stops. I think as long as we play good defense, it’s not that hard to score.”
Despite jumping to a 10-2 lead after one quarter, however, the Firebirds struggled to get into a rhythm offensively the rest of the way, getting outscored in each of the final two quarters and managing just three points in the final eight minutes.
What’s more, only four players scored for Free State: Caron, Hill, Lynn Robinson (eight points), and Wren Wiebe (two).
With things beginning to look grim late, however, Caron came through, scoring nine of her team’s final 11 points to help push the Firebirds to their fourth victory in the past five games heading into Friday’s 6 p.m. home game against Olathe Northwest.
“That’s just it — we found a way to win,” Duncan said. “You win a one-point game in mid-February against a quality opponent, that can do nothing but help you (down the road).”