The Belleville East Lancers’ season opener wasn’t one for the weak at heart Thursday at the Salem Lady Wildcats’ Thanksgiving Tournament.
Salem senior Dearrie Watson scored 15 of her 24 points in the first half as the host Wildcats took a lead they would never relinqush as they went on for a 57-44 opening-round win before a large opening night crowd at Salem High School.
With the 6-foot-1 Watson dominating in the low post, Salem built leads of 7-0 and 26-9 in the first half as East made just five field goals and committed 16 of its 33 turnovers during the first two quarters.
The Lancers rallied behind freshman Kaylah Rainey in the second half. Playing her first high school game, the 5-7 Rainey scored all 13 of her team-high points in the final two quarters to lead the Lancers’ comeback attempt.
Trailing by as many as 13-points midway in the third quarter, the Lancers closed to within 44-39 with 3:44 left in the game. East then had two chances to get within three points, but a turnover and a pair of missed free throws followed by an offensive rebound and basket by Watson and a 3-point jumper by Haley Gregg helped the Wildcats take the lead back to double figures.
Salem then put the game away in the closing 45 seconds on a pair of free throws each by Trinity Meadows and Gregg.
East meanwhile was a woeful 9 of 31 from the foul line for the game.
“Turnovers and terrible free throw shooting. That was the difference in the game right there,” Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the basketball and we didn’t do a very good job of making decisions with the basketball. I think you’ve got to chalk up a little of what went on out there tonight as opening night jitters. But we just didn’t execute on either end of the floor very well.
“I just told the girls that this game won’t define us. But it’s what we learned from it is what matters. We’ve got a lot to work on these next two days of practice.”
East suffered through a miserable first 14 minutes of the game.
Bothered by a tenacious Wildcats man-to-man defense and perhaps trying to play to fast, the Lancers were just 5 of 23 from the field in the first half and committed 16 turnovers.
Salem wasn’t much better as it was guilty of 13 first-half turnovers, But led by Watson, the Wildcats used a 12-0 scoring spree midway in the second quarter to take its biggest lead at 27-9.
Watson led the way by scoring eight of her 12 first-half points to key the run which included a 3-point basket by Haley Gregg.
The Lancers began to show signs of getting back into the game late in the second quarter and finished halftime the first half on a 7-0 scoring run. An offensive rebound and putback by senior Chermaine King and a 3-point basket by Ellisha Davis keyed the run as the Lancers drew to within 26-16.