By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — Miami East girls basketball coach Bruce Vanover knew exactly what to expect.
“We told the girls that it was going to be a close game the entire game,” he said after his fifth-seeded Vikings took on No. 11 Preble Shawnee Saturday. “They’re a very good 11 seed. We knew this would be a grind of a game, and it played out exactly like I thought it would.”
But, thanks to their tough regular season schedule, the Vikings were more than ready to grind it out.
Freshman Morgan Haney kept the Vikings close in the first half, then Haley Howard and Kyndall Hellyer took over the glass in the second half, helping Miami East (15-8) pull ahead late and put away a 56-48 first-round victory over the Preble Shawnee Arrows in the Division III sectional tournament Saturday at Tippecanoe High School.
The Vikings outrebounded the Arrows (11-12) 27-18 in the second half, thanks in large part to Howard and Hellyer. Howard, in fact, had a double-double in the second half alone, scoring 15 of her 20 points and grabbing 12 of her 16 rebounds after the break, while Hellyer finished with 13 rebounds and added six assists in the game.
“It just speaks volumes about this group,” Vanover said. “We went in at the half getting killed on the boards. We were in a zone on defense and having a tough time boxing out, so we switched to man so we could match up more. Kyndall was just a beast on the boards and Haley got going in the second half with some scores and rebounds. She wasn’t really off in the first half, just got in some foul trouble. But she played well, just had to grind it out.
“Preble Shawnee’s a good, fundamental team. They’re disciplined, they move the ball well, and their coach does a nice job. This is why we play teams like Versailles and Anna and Tippecanoe in the regular season. You hope those games prepare you for games like this in the tournament.”
East finished the regular season with a similar win, defeating Northwestern — the No. 4 seed in the D-III sectional — 46-38.
“Last Saturday’s win against Northwestern was just like this one,” Vanover said. “That was a good win for the girls to get, and this was a good team win, too. It takes a team effort to win a game like this.”
Haney scored 18 of her game-high 23 points in the first half to keep the Vikings close, tossing in 11 first-quarter points — including a steal-and-layup at the buzzer that made the score 17-14 Preble Shawnee after one.
But the Arrows retook the momentum right away, with Chloe Smith hitting a 3 on the first possession of the second quarter — Preble Shawnee’s fourth 3 of the game on its first four attempts. A steal-and-layup by Smith gave the Arrows their biggest lead at 22-14, but the Vikings began to fight back. A bucket inside by Howard made the score 24-18, and a fast break bucket by Haney made it a four-point game. Haney then found Bailey Miller open for a 3 in transition to get East within one, the Arrows rebuilt a five-point lead and Haney hit a late 3 to put the Vikings down only two, 28-26, at the half.
“Part of our problem in the first half was that half of our turnovers were our own fault,” Vanover said. “We had eight turnovers in the first half, and even in the third quarter, every time we’d tie the score or take a one-point lead, it’d slip right back away. But that’s a credit to Preble Shawnee. They played well, too.”
The lead changed hands twice in the third and the game was tied four times, including at quarter’s end, 39-39. Howard then scored on a putback to give the Vikings the lead on the opening possession of the fourth, East got a stop on defense and Megan Kinnison fed Howard inside again to give the Vikings their biggest lead to that point. A free throw and a 3 by Riane Woodard tied the score again at 43-43, but an offensive rebound by Hellyer led to another Howard bucket to give control back to the Vikings — and this time they would not let go.
Howard hit a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game and Hellyer set up a 3 by Megan Thompson to make it 50-43 East with three minutes to play. The Vikings missed six straight free throws and Smith hit her third 3 of the game to close the gap to 47-43, but Miller and Haney each hit 2 of 4 free throws as the Arrows were forced to foul to get the ball back — only to be stuffed by the Viking defense each time — and East sealed the win from there.
All told, the Vikings outrebounded the Arrows 43-34 and committed 15 turnovers while forcing 13. East also was 11 for 24 from the free throw line in the game — including 6 for 16 in the fourth.
Haney added five rebounds, three assists and three steals to go with her game-high 23 points. Miller finished with eight points, Thompon had three and Kinnison had two points and three steals.
Smith led the Arrows with 15 points and five rebounds, Elise Walker had 10 points and six rebounds and Nicole Sims hit a pair of first-half 3s and had eight points.
Now Miami East will face No. 14 Bethel in the tournament’s second round Wednesday at Tippecanoe, with a trip to Franklin Monroe for the sectional title game on the line.
“We’ve got seven more games to go. At this point of the year, you want to win eight,” Vanover said. “But we’ve got to take them one at a time. Now we get Bethel on Wednesday. If you look past Bethel, which gave us a heck of a game at their place this year, you can get tripped up. We’ve got to focus on each game at a time.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.