Chisom Ajekwu puts Lions ‘on her back’ in tight win vs. Northwest

OLATHE — It was a nail-biter that didn’t quite need to be.

Ahead by double figures with just a few minutes left in their eventual 49-45 win over Olathe Northwest, the Lawrence High girls basketball team just couldn’t put the game out of reach. A wide-open 3 missed from the right wing. An uncontested layup in transition rolled around the rim and brushed off the mark.

“I don’t coach a very good fourth quarter,” joked LHS coach Jeff Dickson. “We’re the type of team you want to stay to the end to watch.”

Finally, though, the knockout punch came.

Clinging to a 3-point lead, the Lions (15-4, 9-3 in league) pressured the Ravens up the court, forcing an errant pass that was picked off by Talima Harjo. She ran the court and was fouled, making one of two shots at the line to seal the win.

“We were talking before we started playing,” said LHS’ Chisom Ajekwu, “that this game would come down not to who the physically tough team (was), but the mentally tough team.”

On Wednesday, that team proved to be the Lions — thanks in part to a mighty effort from the 6-foot-3 junior.

Ajekwu tied for the team lead with 16 points, but affected the action all over the court. In addition to her rebounding, Ajekwu altered — both physically and with her presence — several shots from the Ravens as part of a third quarter that saw the Lions allow only five points.

“She has a chance to be one of the best players in the country,” said Dickson. “She’s one of those things where everybody’s got pretty good players, everybody’s got kids that play hard. There’s only one Chisom.”

Still, the nine other players on the court Wednesday kept things a little closer.

The Lions struggled to hit the mark in the first half, shooting just 11 for 41 from the field. But they stayed in the game because of their work on the boards.

With Ajekwu and Sammy Williams anchoring the paint, the Lions attempted 12 more shots than their opponent. On one possession, coming midway through the second quarter, the Lions hauled in five offensive rebounds.

Hannah Stewart missed a floater. E’lease Stafford grabbed the board and attempted three shots at the rim, but they all missed. Ajekwu hauled in a rebound and missed. Finally, Stafford regained possession and scored on a drive to the basket.

Down by five when the possession started, the play seemed to give some energy to the Lions, who scored six straight points to take the lead. Ajekwu scored the next two baskets, ripping one away on an offensive rebound and putting it back up and in.

“She put us on her back tonight and carried us,” Dickson said.

She was just getting started.

Ajekwu, who led all scorers with 10 points at the half, scored the first two Lawrence buckets — and three of the first four — out of the break. The Lions went on an 8-0 run to grab a 31-27 lead.

“I decided I didn’t want to be taken down,” Ajekwu said. “I didn’t want to lose this game. I knew what I needed to do for my team.”

The spurt would eventually grow to a 17-2 run, including five straight points from Tyrin Cosey to end the third quarter. Cosey, who finished the period with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on the left wing, would score once more in the fourth, finishing with seven points.

“I consider her a starter for us,” Dickson said. “She’s a very special talent. I’m so excited for her because she’s gaining confidence at the time we really need it.”

Stafford was the only Lion outside of Ajekwu to finish in double figures, scoring 16 points and making six of her last seven shots from the field. Stafford, who Dickson previously called the best player in the Sunflower League, also crossed the 1,000-point mark for her high school career with the performance.

The Lions, winners in nine of their last 10, will finish off their regular season Thursday, taking on Olathe South for senior night.

Lawrence (49)

Hannah Stewart 0-8 0-0 0, Leslie Ostronic 0-4 0-0 0, Talima Harjo 1-6 1-4 4, E’lease Stafford 8-16 0-0 16, Chisom Ajekwu 8-15 0-0 16, Tyrin Cosey 3-9 0-0 7, Sammy Williams 3-6 0-0 6, Ella Stewart 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-65 1-4 49.

Olathe Northwest (45)

Mary Reiber 1-8 0-0 3, Kaylie Kappleman 3-8 0-0 6, Erika Boeh 5-10 4-4 14, Sara Beth Gueldner 5-15 0-0 12, Christen Curry 3-10 1-2 7, Shayna Espy 1-2 0-0 3, Liz Thomas 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 18-56 5-6 45.

Lawrence 6 17 15 11 — 49

Northwest 10 15 5 15 — 45

Three-point goals: Lawrence 2-10 (Harjo, Cosey 1); Northwest 4-17 (Gueldner 2, Reiber, Espy 1). Fouled out: none. Turnovers: Lawrence 6, Northwest 7.