CRYSTAL LAKE – For 2 1/2 quarters, not much was clicking for Hampshire on Friday night against Crystal Lake South.
The defense was a little bit passive on the inside while the offense was stagnant, a combination that might derail a team playing on the road and struggling to find its rhythm in a strange season.
Then, almost all at once, the light bulb went on and the Whip-Purs understood what it would take to break through and produce a 41-32 Fox Valley Conference victory.
Through a defense that gave up only two points on the inside in the final 8:29 of the game to an offense that became a bit more efficient through passing, the Whip-Purs finished the third quarter strong and then dominated the fourth quarter to move to 8-11 on the season (2-5 in the FVC).
“I thought this game for us in the second half was all about a game of composure,” Hampshire coach Eric Samuelson said.
Defensively, the focus was clear. The Gators’ combination of Nicole Molgado and Kree Nunnally, which combined to score 22 of South’s 32 points, was almost shut down completely in the final quarter and a half. The Gators were 2-for-17 shooting in the final quarter.
That allowed the offense to take a big step forward. Trailing, 27-22, some sharp passing led to a 7-0 run to close the third quarter and give Hampshire – which trailed most of the night to that point – a 29-27 edge.
South (3-14, 1-6) tied it at 29 on a Nunnally bucket with 6:19 left, but through some decent free-throw shooting (8 of 12 in the final period) and the extra pass, the Whip-Purs went on a 10-1 run to put the game out of reach with 1:58 left.
“In the first quarter and then the third quarter, I thought we did a lot of get the ball and stand,” Samuelson said. “When we finally turned the tide, we would get the ball and either pass, shoot or drive. And that forced the defense to make a decision.
“I thought our passing and our commitment to the whole team as opposed to individual really was what turned the tide.”
That statement was supported by a balanced offense. Nobody reached double figures, but six players scored at least five points. Ashley Herzing led the way with eight points, followed by seven from Whitney Thompson and six each from Avery Cartee and Kaitlyn Milison.
While Hampshire found a way to click in 32 minutes, South hasn’t been able to click through 17 games, mainly because of various illness and injuries. The lineup still isn’t complete despite the return of Nunnally recently, and a lack of cohesiveness shows at times.
Still, the Gators showed some positive steps forward Friday. They scored the final seven points of the first half to take a 20-18 lead into the locker room and rebounded very well all night long.
Nunnally finished with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. Molgado had 10 points in the first 17:12 of play while Hanna Massie had a strong first half with seven points.
“I think we just got a little bit tired and had a little bit of loss of focus and stopped doing it,” South coach Mark Mucha said. “And credit to their defense because they did a good job of trying to keep us out of the lane. That was our strong suit, and they tried to take it away.
“I think we definitely took steps forward today, but obviously you can tell we aren’t there just yet.”