It’s hard to find a performance much better than the Notre Dame Lady Titans’ girls basketball program put together on Monday evening.
Don’t believe so? There’s at least 19 reasons to change said opinion.
From the opening tip of Monday’s primo bout between Notre Dame and the New Boston Lady Tigers’ girls basketball program, the battle between the two unbeaten programs — who entered the contest with identical 7-0 records — was controlled by Notre Dame from start to finish as the Lady Titans forced 19 steals and collected a strong 57 percent mark from the floor en route to taking home an impressive 77-47 victory over the Lady Tigers inside the halls of Notre Dame High School in an SOC I bout.
For JD McKenzie, the victory by the Lady Titans was impressive through and through, especially considering that Notre Dame had just come off an excellent 69-30 triumph over Clay two days prior. Monday’s victory meant that the Lady Titans outscored New Boston and Clay — a combined 12-4 overall — by 69 points between the two affairs.
“Going into the last two games (against Clay and New Boston), I wasn’t quite sure where we were at,” McKenzie said. “I told the girls before we played against Clay that it’d be good if we could make a statement. With New Boston on the horizon, I thought it would carry over to this game, and it really did. They came out during both games and just swarmed the primary ballhandlers bringing the ball up the floor. That pressure’s so hard to replicate for teams as far as going against it everyday is concerned. If we can do that all year long, good things are going to happen.”
From the opening tip, Notre Dame wasted no time establishing control. After battling to a 4-4 tie in the opening minute and a half, the Lady Titans quadrupled the Lady Tigers’ score over the remaining six and a half minutes as Notre Dame used its combination of relentless pressure and half-court execution to create easy opportunities that resulted in the Lady Titans establishing their 24-9 advantage after a quarter of play, with Katie Dettwiller and Lexi Smith accumulating 14 of those 24 tallies on their own.
“Once we get out in transition, Katie (Dettwiller) and Lexi (Smith) run the floor so well for bigs, and our girls are pretty unselfish about passing the ball up, finding the post, and scoring inside,” McKenzie said. “When you’re shooting layups all night, good things are going to happen. I’d say that 90 percent of the shots that we have taken, this season, have been in the paint. We can shoot the three, but it’s not something that we have to rely on.”
As has been the case throughout the majority of the year, however, Notre Dame’s scoring opportunities came about largely due to their own efforts in poking the ball free. Whether it was through traps via its full court-press or through chasedown deflections from behind, the Lady Titans never relented. Dettwiller, Smith, Ava Hassel, and Molly Hoover all combined for 14 of the 19 steals, with Hassel and Hoover combining for nine swipes on their own.
“They’re just a bunch of tiny, small little scrappers that are meaner than pitbulls,” McKenzie said. “They seek out the ball, and when they get beat, they’re flying from behind trying to poke the ball out. Where some people would get beat and settle for that, these girls never give up and go make something happen. I’d love to have a tally of tips from behind that we’ve gotten this year.”
In the second quarter of action, Notre Dame continued its dominance as the Lady Titans showed off its brilliant half-court execution behind the play of Smith. The senior forward notched 10 points in the opening frame and eight additional tallies in the second stanza as Notre Dame ultimately took off on a 15-2 quarter-opening spurt that put Notre Dame up by as much as 39-11 before the Lady Titans ultimately settled for a 43-18 halftime lead.
Smith, who feasted all evening long on a well-played slip screen that was executed flawlessly on virtually every possession it was run, finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals — all while shooting 12-of-18 from the floor. Dettwiller added 20 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks, and two steals on 9-of-12 shooting to form yet another complete low post effort as both players combined to shoot 70 percent from the floor on Monday.
“We’ve been waiting for Lexi to break out offensively,” McKenzie said. “We’ve got four girls on our team averaging double-figures in the scoring column. I looked at halftime and saw where she had 18, which validates my opinion that, when she doesn’t want to be guarded, she can’t be. She’s so big, strong, physical, and athletic. She was a monster on the glass, finished really well tonight, was up at the front of our press, and ran the floor all night.”
In addition to Lexi Smith, Ali Smith also proved to be huge throughout the second frame of action. When star guard Taylor Schmidt had to go to the bench due to foul trouble, Smith came up large by scoring five of her 10 points in the frame. The 5-3 senior hit two huge three-pointers in the first half en route to helping the Lady Titans establish a wide margin.
“Ali and I talked about her role at the beginning of the year,” McKenzie said. “She could be a starter for us. We sat down together and talked about it. I told her, ‘You provide so much energy with your offensive and defensive spark coming off of the bench.’ Well, she relishes coming off of the bench, and she’s huge for us there. She told me, ‘Whatever is best for this team is what I want to do.’ She does a great job playing her role.”
And Smith, along with fellow senior hand Molly Hoover, were at the head of the attack all game. Hoover, in fact, collected 10 assists, five steals, and four points to put up yet another sterling statline that featured unselfish basketball.
“The guards are doing a great job reading the defense and making good post-entry passes, whether they be over the top passes, bounce passes, or ball reversal passes,” McKenzie said. “They’re just doing a great job. They’re so coachable and listen to everything that we say as a coaching staff. Molly is a tremendous leader for us. She doesn’t care if she scores a point. She’d rather have 10 assists than 20 points. Defensively, she sets the tone for us a lot of the time.
In the third quarter, New Boston showed spurts of life. Peyton Helphinstine, who scored a team-high 14 points in the contest, used her length to wreak havoc as the Lady Tigers ultimately went on a 9-4 spurt to cut the Notre Dame lead to 23, 43-20, with 4:51 to play in the third quarter of action.
However, Notre Dame soon overcame its early third quarter scoring slump by going on a 20-8 push — including a 16-2 run within said push — to push the lead out to 67-28, which virtually closed the affair out. A buzzer-beating three-pointer at the end of the third quarter, coming from Hassel — who threw up a ball from the visitors side of halfcourt and looked good when it left her hand — was the main highlight in yet another fabulous spurt for the Lady Titans. The freshman finished with 10 points, eight assists, four steals, and three rebounds in the contest.
“I’ve seen Ava make all kinds of crazy shots like that since she was young, just messing around in the gym or the driveway,” McKenzie said. “It didn’t surprise me because I’ve seen her do it.”
With the victory, Notre Dame improved to 8-0, and 7-0 in the SOC I. The win gives the Lady Titans firm control of the conference lead with a trip to Green on Thursday and a nonconference bout against Reedsville Eastern on Saturday awaiting Notre Dame.
“We’re looking forward to both games,” McKenzie said. “I love what Melissa (Knapp) is doing down at Green with her girls, and Eastern Meigs is somebody who we could run into the tournament. They’ll both be great games, and hopefully, we can sustain this momentum and energy that we’re expending energy.”
Even with the defeat, New Boston still sits with a 7-1 mark and a 6-1 SOC I tally, which puts the Lady Tigers firmly in second place in the SOC I standings. A trip to Western, which will occur on Thursday, awaits for Kayla Wiley’s club.