The look of frustration was etched on the faces of Christ the King as they tried to find ways to get on the scoreboard for long stretches of Saturday’s home contest.
Yet the Royals discovered the ways to erase its early woes by turning up the grit and the defense in the fourth quarter to pull off a 47-45 comeback win over Long Island Lutheran in a early season marquee girls basketball game held in Middle Village.
“I think as a team defensively we picked it up because on offense we struggled in the first half,” Christ the King sophomore Natalija Marshall said. “But we were the bigger team so we had that bigger advantage and then our zone did great in the second half and that's where I think we really picked it up.”
Marshall lead with 12 points and Nina Rickards starred in the second half to add 11 points as Chris the King improved to 3-0 on the season and added another notable win after defeating highly ranked Paul VI (VA), 46-45, at the Art Turner Classic on December 1.
The ball movement and inside play of the 6-4 Marshall and 6-2 Klarke Sconiers (10 points) got Christ the King rolling out to a 15-2 lead early in the first quarter. It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Royals after that.
Celeste Taylor lead all scorers with 29 points and the Texas commit provided the spark for LUHI (2-2) with her aggressive offensive moves to the basket. Kendall Miller’s layup with 4.7 seconds left in the second quarter helped LUHI shape up a 13-1 run to take a 23-18 advantage going into halftime.
Christ the King went without a field goal for a span of more than 12 minutes on the clock. But they turned to the bench and Rickards answered the call with strong play on both ends of the floor to help the hosts cut into the deficit in the second half.
The 5-8 junior hit a crucial three-pointer from the left wing with 4:45 remaining to give the Royals a 39-38 lead. Brandy Thomas, the LIU-Brooklyn commit, followed with an important offensive rebound and put back bucket to add to a slender advantage. CTK’s defense strengthened with their length on the inside and the perimeter to hold Taylor to only two points in the fourth quarter.
Miller almost delivered LUHI a victory as her three-point attempt at the top of the key hit the front of the rim and bounced out as the buzzer sounded.
“The wheels came off the bus and there was no gas. I don't know,” Christ the King coach Bob Mackey said of his team’s first half effort. “They just got a little gun shy and we showed some of the youth we have when you have a game in December of this caliber, but I like the way they came back.”
Christ the King faces higher expectations to raise silverware and their current ranking in the USA Today Top 25 national poll has put other top teams on alert. Mackey has always drawn up a tough schedule to prepare his team for postseason play and the next set of games at the Cresscom Invitational in Myrtle Beach beginning on December 20 will be another tough challenge for his group.
“A lot of grit and a lot of potential,” Mackey said. “They are going to grow up and hopefully going on the road and getting away and playing where they have to take care of themselves will get them ready; but they got some growing up to do.”