Central-Southeastern climbs out of 16-point hole, forces 39 turnovers by Deer Creek-Mackinaw in OT victory


Central-Southeastern's Lauren Miller goes between two Deer Creek-Mackinaw players for a shot during Saturday's high school girls basketball game at the Midwest Athletic Center in Jacksonville. | Photo courtesy of Mike Pritchard

JACKSONVILLE, Ill. – Central-Southeastern girls coach Matt Long was singing “What a Long, Strange Trip it’s Been” as he entered his victorious locker room at the Midwest Athletic Center on Saturday night.

His teenage players probably didn’t know the song or the artist the lyric was from (“Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead), but the result of the 46-43 overtime victory over Deer Creek-Mackinaw certainly didn’t seem possible after the game’s first 20 minutes.

“I think you know we finally woke up,” Long said. “Their size intimidated us quite a bit throughout the game. It was still intimidating us late, and we decided to go to a bench and get a couple of shooters in and try to force their big girl out of the paint, which we did. She had to come out of the paint and respect the outside shot, and our finishers were able to get downhill and make plays.”

A battle of two top 10 Class 2A programs was a contrast in style. The Chiefs used their interior length to cause problems for the Panthers’ offense early. C-SE (20-2) overcame a cold shooting second quarter with pressure defense and multiple late scoring opportunities. DC-M (23-2) turned the ball over 39 times.

As was the case in two earlier losses this season to Peoria Notre Dame and Quincy Notre Dame, C-SE was in a halftime hole, trailing 27-13. The Panthers missed 11 straight shots to end the second quarter.

“He didn’t say anything I can really repeat,” Lauren Miller said jokingly about Long’s halftime speech. “I think we knew had it within ourselves to play better. That was a poor (first half) performance, but obviously it’s nice to hear from him to get us fired up.”

The Chiefs opened their biggest lead at 31-15 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. That’s when Miller started dropping buckets.

Miller scored on back-to-back possessions after the Panthers’ defense forced a turnover. Anna Peters buried a 3-pointer, and Kara Stephens hit a basket late as C-SE scored the quarter’s last nine points to trim the deficit to 31-24 going into the final quarter.

Miller scored six of the next 11 points to cut the score to 36-35, and Parker Crim scored at the 2:54 mark to give the Panthers their first lead since the opening minute of the game.

“We just said, ‘Let’s put all of our energy into these last two quarters and just give it our all,’” Miller said.

Daila DeJesus was fouled as she made a basket and buried the free throw to put the Chiefs back on top 39-37 with two minutes to play. The Panthers’ hot streak ended, as they missed five straight shots.

Crim stole the ball with 1:30 left in regulation, and the Panthers worked the clock until Crim was open on a backdoor play under the basket to tie the game at 39 with 17 seconds left.

The Chiefs’ Kenzie Knowles pulled up at the elbow and couldn’t get her shot to fall. Two offensive putback attempts were unsuccessful, and the game went into overtime.

Miller gave C-SE the lead by hitting one of two free throws, but Lexi Cottingham hit two free throws on the next trip down to put the Chiefs back on top. Miller countered by driving and scoring on the next possession.

Miller then fouled Knowles, who sank both free throws. She made up for that with another basket to put the Panthers up 44-43 with 1:18 remaining. That was Miller’s final basket of the game. She led all scorers with 23 points.

C-SE kept the pressure on, and Karly Peters stole the ball as soon as it was inbounded. The Panthers worked the ball, and Long called timeout with 26 seconds remaining.

Peters was fouled once play resumed and hit a pair of free throws. The Chiefs called timeout with 12 seconds left to set up a three-point play. The shot fell short, and the Panthers escaped.

Long said this is the kind of game he wants to have as his team looks toward the postseason, albeit with a little better shooting in the first half.

“That’s why we scheduled it,” he said. “We both knew we had pretty good ball clubs, and we both had the date open. Hats off to (Deer Creek-Mackinaw) for stepping up and wanting to play good teams. Lots of teams won’t schedule this time of year. If we have an open day, teams don’t want to come play. So we appreciate that. We have all the respect for their program.”

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