By Cody Leist
ROSEMOUNT — With the tournament draw just a day away, Clay coach Kelly White wanted to head into the meeting on a high note.
He got his wish in the form of the Panthers’ ninth-straight victory Saturday afternoon with an 80-57 win over visiting Symmes Valley. But in order to make a big second half run, Clay used strong finishes in the opening two quarters to maintain a lead.
“They’re veterans, they don’t get rattled at halftime and they just go in and make a couple of little adjustments,” White said. “I really challenged them at halftime about our defense, which was not good in the first half.”
The Vikings provided a strong counter to the Panthers attack as there were six ties in the opening stanza. The Panthers took an 18-16 lead into the second when Shannon Curley connected on a jumper from the foul line to beat the buzzer.
Last season, Symmes Valley hit just five shots from beyond the arc. Saturday, the Vikings hit three, two of them in the second quarter. Symmes Valley coach Brandon Walker believes that his team has hit eight times the number of shots from beyond the arc this year in comparison and credits his team’s ability to force opponents to game plan for multiple looks.
“We saw a lot of zone the last two years and the kids are tired of it,” Walker said. “They want to get guarded man-to-man and said by God, we’re going to get better at it, we’re going to become better shooters.”
Although Elly Fulks’ triple was a part of a 7-0 run that gave the Vikings their biggest lead of the game at 29-22 and Hannah Maynard’s 3-pointer later in the second boosted their lead to six, Clay battled back with a 10-2 run and Lexie Gilliland’s basket before the halftime horn put the Panthers up 38-36.
In the second half, the trio of Gilliland, Emily Widdowson and Katie Redding took over the game. They accounted for 36 of Clay’s 42 points in the second half. The backbreaker for Symmes Valley was an 11-2 spurt to start the third.
“Most of the time when you score 57 points in the SOC I, you’re going to win,” Walker said. “(Today) we went on a long streak there in the second half where we couldn’t knock down a shot. Credit Clay, that’s at least the second time this year they’ve scored over 70 points.”
Redding led all scorers with 27 points and 10 rebounds while Widdowson added 23 points and Gilliland chipped in with 22 points and 12 rebounds. White credited their success to their teammates.
“They spread the ball around,” White said. “Shannon Curley, (Madison) Freeman and Cam Whitley do a great job of getting the ball to our scorers. It’s no secret that we’ve got three big scorers, it’s just working hard, setting good screens and people doing the little things.”
Miranda Hayes — who wasn’t eligible in their first meeting because of transfer rules — paced the Vikings with 18 points, Kalli Hunt had 14 points and 17 rebounds while Fulks finished with 10. Walker hopes with Sunday’s meeting to get as high of a seed as possible.
“We haven’t won a sectional since 1986 and it’s a definite goal every year, we sit down and talk about it,” Walker said. “I want nothing more for these kids than to cut down the nets. We’re making progress toward that with our program, hopefully we can get that done this year.”
White anticipates being a three or four seed and believes the winning streak will put them in the higher seed.
The win was also important for the Panthers’ chances at a share of the SOC I. They need wins over Notre Dame and Western along with a Titans’ sweep of division-leading Eastern to become co-champions.
Clay will look for the sweep Tuesday over Notre Dame. The Panthers won the 68-61 decision that took place in Rosemount.
Symmes Valley will travel Monday to Coal Grove.
Cody Leist can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 294, or on Twitter @CodyLeist
Symmes Valley 16 20 13 8 — 57
Clay 18 20 26 16 — 80
Symmes Valley — Ross 0-1-1, Brumfield 2-0-5, Fulks 4-1-10, Hayes 8-2-18, Hunt 6-2-14, Massie 1-0-2, Maynard 2-0-5, Keathley 1-0-2, Totals 24-6-57.
Clay — Freeman 1-0-2, Gilliland 10-2-22, Curley 1-0-2, Widdowson 10-3-23, Redding 12-3-27, Wolfe 2-0-4, Totals 36-8-80.
3-Point Goals — Symmes Valley 3 (Brumfield, Fulks, Maynard); Clay None.
Records — Symmes Valley 7-11 (4-8); Clay 14-5 (10-2).