By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CASSTOWN — Bradford, one of the Cross County Conference’s up-and-coming girls basketball teams, gave Miami East’s offense fits Thursday night.
But the reigning CCC champion Vikings play tough defense, too.
Miami East held Bradford to one lone field goal in the first half of Thursday’s matchup and only seven in the game, while senior Viking point guard Morgan Haney overcame a slow start to post a double-double and lead the way in a 42-27 victory over the Railroaders to remain unbeaten in CCC play so far this season.
The Vikings improved to 7-2 overall and 5-0 in the CCC with the win, keeping pace with Covington and Tri-Village for a three-way tie atop the league. And yet coach Bruce Vanover was way going into the Thursday’s game against Bradford.
“Watching them play, the one thing that impressed me about Bradford is that they are athletic,” Vanover said. “Those kids cause a lot of the problems you have because they don’t leave areas open very long. They’re moving, they’re constantly getting their hands out, they’re constantly recovering once the ball is moved, and I think (Bradford) coach (Chris) Besecker has them playing with a lot of energy.
“I would like to think that, on the same hand, we have a lot to do with keeping other teams from scoring. Our defensive average this year is pretty good. The girls take a lot of pride in their defense, and I’m proud of how they’ve played. But our offensive woes tonight had a lot to do with Bradford.”
And scoring has been the struggle for the Railroaders, who fell to 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the CCC — with all three of those losses coming to the league’s three leaders.
“We just struggle offensively against good team,” Besecker said. “We’re just not strong with the ball, and that’s something we’ve got to get better at. We’ve had some stiff contests here, played Covington last Saturday and struggled against them, too.
“I think 90 percent of it is between their ears. The girls have got to believe in themselves and start playing with confidence. We’re still young, and I believe in them.”
Bianca Keener scored the game’s first bucket for Bradford, but that proved to be the only field goal the Vikings allowed in the first half. Bradford’s defense held East similarly in check until a 3 by Rori Hunley gave the Vikings the lead at 6-4 wit 1:51 left in the opening quarter, and a steal and pair of free throws by Haney made the score 8-4 after one.
Haney and Camryn Miller both hit 3s in the second quarter, and a baseline drive by Haney late gave the Vikings a 21-9 halftime lead — even if the East offense felt a bit reigned in.
“What’s normally a bunny shot, you know have someone coming at you hard and creating some havoc,” Vanover said. “And that’s a credit to them. They make you work for everything you get. But I think we did a good job defensively, too. About half of their points came from the free throw line, and when you’re making them work that hard for points, shooting two to get two, we’re doing a pretty good job.”
With Haney, the Vikings’ leading scorer who just reached 1,000 career points over the weekend, not hitting shots as regularly as normal, though, she attacked the offensive glass. And while the Railroaders ended up tying the rebounding battle on the night, 38-38, East’s early edge on the boards helped it take control of the game.
“Morgan was really active on the boards,” Vanover said. “We talked coming in about how Keener was rebounding well, and Skipp Miller fights hard for the rebound if she puts up a shot that doesn’t go in. So our focus was to take them away as much as we could tonight. We felt like if we controlled the boards, we could win the game. And early on, I felt like we were rebounding well.”
Bradford continued to hang around by getting to the free throw line and, when Rylee Canan scored a bucket in the paint with 3:10 left in the third for the team’s first field goal since the opening moments of the game, trailed only 27-13. But Maria Staton finished a fast break with a layup and Haney grabbed a defensive rebound and hit Hunley for a transition layup to make it an 18-point game, and East led 31-15 heading into the fourth quarter and led by at least 15 the rest of the way.
Haney finished with a game-high 19 points and 11 rebounds and added three assists and four steals, while Hunley added 10 points. Miller finished with four points, five rebounds and four assists, Staton and Paxton Hunley each scored four points and Whitley Gross had one point and eight rebounds.
Canan hit a 3 at the buzzer and led Bradford with nine points on the night, while Keener finished with eight points and four rebounds. Austy Miller had six points and 10 rebounds, Cassi Mead had two points and Skipp Miller had one point and eight rebounds.
Miami East hosts Troy in a non-league matchup Saturday, while Bradford is off until Dec. 27 when it hosts National Trail.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.