Somewhat overlooked while playing in the ultra-competitive Southwestern Conference, the O’Fallon Panthers still have a ways to go to get where veteran coach Ryan Massey hopes they will be by the end of the year.
But the Panthers continue to improve – and quickly.
Guards Becca Althoff and Marta Durk combined for 25 points and the Panthers held Mater Dei to 26 points over the first three quarters as they defeated the Knights 58-37 on Saturday in a first round game at the 30th annual Scott Credit Union Highland Girls Basketball Tournament.
Playing in the second game of the day — with an 11:30 a.m. tipoff time — the Panthers (11-6) got a pair of 3-point field goals from Althoff in the first quarter and trailed just 9-6 against the always well-prepared Knights.
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But with five players — including Tamia Cash and 6-2 junior Celeste Akoro — scoring four points each, the Panthers outscored Mater Dei 22-9 and took a commanding 28-18 lead into halftime.
The Knights, who saw their three-game winning streak end, would get no closer than seven points the rest of the way as they dropped to 10-7 for the season.
“I thought we were maybe trying to play a little too fast in the first quarter. We were able to hit a couple of 3-point shots (Althoff) to keep us in it until we settled down a little bit in the second quarter,” Massey said. “I thought our pressure hurt them (Mater Dei) a little bit, and we started to get some transition baskets.
“This is a big win for us. Mater Dei is a very good, well-coached team. Now we’ll get ready to play an excellent Triad team, which can really shoot the basketball.”
O’Fallon will take on Triad (15-2) in the first quarterfinal-round game at 7 p.m. Monday.
A basket by Kierra Winkeler increased the Mater Dei lead to 11-6 to start the second quarter, but O’Fallon then scored 12 of the next 14 points to take the lead for good.
Cash and Durk both tallied on short jumpers, while Althoff, one of the most improved players in the area, nailed her third 3-point basket of the opening half. When former Althoff standout Divine Lane tallied and Akoro scored inside, the Panthers had an 18-13 lead and were well on their way to take control of the game.
The defensive pressure put on by O’Fallon seemed to have an affect on the Knights who seemed to rush their shots. That style didn’t pay off as coach Dave Kohnen’s team went cold and didn’t warm up much the rest of the day.
“I think their pressure may have hurt us a little bit but we just didn’t hit shots. I don’t know if its because we weren’t squaring our feet or what it was,” Kohnen said. “I don’t care how good your defense it, if you don’t hit shots you’re not going to win many games.”
Junior Kelsey Gerdes led Mater Dei with 14 points.
Althoff led O’Fallon with 13 points, while Durk added 12. But it was the overall team balance that pleased Massey the most.
“I thought we played very well after the first quarter,” Massey said. “We were able to play good defense, Celeste (Akroro) and some of the other girls did a good job inside and on the boards, and we had good balanced scoring and got contributions from several different players.”