On Tuesday, the Edwardsville Tigers used a swarming defensive effort in their first major test toward another Southwestern Conference title.
Junior forward Rachel Pranger came off the bench to score 18 points to lead a balanced attack, and the Edwardsville defense held a young Belleville East team without a field goal for the final 20 minutes, as it went on for a 66-29 win in a SWC girls basketball game.
The Lancers (6-2), getting strong early place from Bryce Dowell and Kaylah Rainey, led early and found themselves even with the undefeated Tigers (6-0) at 19, following a short jumper by Nyah Ford with 3:19 left in the first half.
That jumper would prove to be the Lancers’ final basket of the game, as the more experienced Tigers used their size advantage to dominate on the boards and on the defensive of the court.
Edwardsville senior Criste’on Waters followed with an offensive rebound and basket to give her team a 21-19 lead. Edwardsville ended the second quarter with a 12-0 spurt to take a 31-19 lead.
Belleville East managed only 10 free throws in the second half and finished the game with as many turnovers (29) as points.
Waters, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit, added 15 points for Edwardsville, while junior Kate Martin added 10. But it was Pranger who came off the bench to ignite the Tigers.
“We’ve been battling a little with some illness, and Rachel was a little under the weather. That’s why she didn’t start tonight. This is a big week for us with Belleville East tonight (Tuesday) and then Belleville West and Normal Community,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. “But I thought she (Pranger) came off the bench and gave us a lift.
“On defense, I was pleased. We made some adjustments and did a good job.”
Showing no fear against one of the state’s elite programs, East got a combined 11 points from Rainey and Dowell and an inspired rebounding performance by undersized Grace Tantillo in the first 10 minutes of the game. But eventually, the Tigers athleticism, size and strength began to take their toll.
“They (Edwardsville) are so big, physical and athletic up front, but I was pleased at how my team took it to them early in the game. We were not intimidated at all,” Lancers coach Amanda Kemezys said. “But we like to play an up-tempo style of game, and when we couldn’t do that, we had some turnovers, and I think our inexperience may have started to come out a little bit.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense. To score 10 points and go almost 20 minutes without a field goal, you aren’t going to win.”
Following Waters’ basket, Pranger scored twice inside on strong post moves, Martin scored on a conventional three-point play and Pranger scored again, this time off one of 15 Lancers first half turnovers.
Waters then ended the half with a steal and basket, as Edwardsville took a 31-19 lead at halftime.
Rainey scored 10 points to lead Belleville East.