By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
CASSTOWN — Miami East girls basketball coach Bruce Vanover and his assistants discussed how they thought Saturday’s game would go before it began.
“We talked before the game, and we said it was going to be a grind,” he said. “If we play like we’re capable of, we’ll separate a bit but they’ll battle back — and the game kind of went exactly like that.”
Miami East (8-2) won its fourth straight Saturday afternoon, using an 8-0 run to start the third quarter to take control after the score was tied at halftime. And even though Troy (5-4) did fight back and cut the deficit to as little as five points, the Vikings were able to hold on in the end for a 44-31 non-league victory and hand the Trojans their third straight loss.
And with both teams boasting two of the top point guards in the area — Miami East senior Morgan Haney and Troy freshman Macie Taylor — both coaches were focused on that.
“We knew Macie and MaKenna Taylor and Tia Bass were their big three, their three key players,” Vanover said. “Not to discount anyone else, but we felt like Tia, with her size, was going to grab rebounds and make shots, so we really wanted to focus on Macie. We felt that if we made her work a little harder and she couldn’t distribute the ball that we could effectively shut down their offense a little bit — because, like anybody else, like us, it all runs through the point guard.”
And Miami East’s defense, which has been the catalyst during its winning streak, was able to hold Macie Taylor — the Greater Western Ohio Conference’s leading scorer entering the day with 19.1 points per game — to only six points, five rebounds and two assists.
“Macie’s a heck of a player. If this is her first off night for the year, so be it,” Troy coach Aaron Johnson said. “She was off a little bit, but I’ll take her every day of the week. And she’s a freshman, so it’s one of those things where experience breeds composure. She was trying to force some things, but I’d much rather have her trying to make something happen rather than standing back and not doing anything.”
The Vikings did so by adjusting their defensive scheme after Bass scored three straight buckets inside to power Troy to a 6-0 lead early. The Trojans still held a 9-7 lead after the first, but East slowly but surely crept back into the game, with Haney scoring 10 of her game-high 19 points in the first half to even the score 19-19 at the break.
“Early on when they got going a little bit against our man, I felt like if I could get into a half-court trap and start pinching (Macie Taylor) a little bit, it could make things a little more difficult — and it really helped us. It slowed them down pounding the ball inside, because we don’t have the size to stop Bass one-on-one inside. We had to make an adjustment, and the girls did a great job running it and adjusting to the game.”
“We had a feeling they’d come out in a 1-3-1 zone. We emphasized bounce passes, pass fakes and doing a lot of reversing the ball and taking what they give you,” Johnson said. “I think we felt pressed — not by them, but by ourselves — and tried to force some passes that aren’t open against a 1-3-1. They’re just not. And throwing that lob 30-40 feet is just not effective. And Miami East read it. Their defense reacted the way you should in a 1-3-1 zone, and they were there.
“We showed some moments where we executed some things inside-out, but I’d say we were outexecuted today, and to be honest we didn’t have our best shooting day.”
Bass and MaKenna Taylor, who hit a pair of first-half 3-pointers to help Troy keep pace, both struggled with foul trouble in the first half and early in the third quarter — and the Vikings took advantage. Maria Staton hit a jumper to start the second half, Haney converted a three-point play the hard way and Rori Hunley sank a 3 to give the Vikings a 27-19 lead before Macie Taylor finally scored on a baseline drive with two minutes left in the third to make the score 27-21. But that proved to be the only bucket of the quarter for the Trojans, and East led 31-21 heading into the final quarter.
Bass got going again in the fourth, hitting four tough buckets inside and converting one three-point play to help cut the lead to 36-31, but that would be as close as Troy got. Haney hit a jumper and then found Hunley open on a back-door cut in transition to extend the lead to 40-31, then a drive by Haney and a pair of Camryn Miller free throws sealed the win.
Bass finished with 15 points and five rebounds to lead the Trojans and MaKenna Taylor had seven points, Macie Taylor added six points, Brennah Hutchinson had three points and Lauren McGraw led everyone on the glass with 10 rebounds.
“When we did get it in to Tia, it was nice to see her finish and to have that inside presence,” Johnson said. “We did a good job of that in the first half, but we’ve got to work on being consistent with that.”
After Haney’s 19 points and four rebounds, Rori Hunley added 12 points, Miller scored seven points, Staton had four points and Paxton Hunley had two as the Vikings lost the battle of the boards 35-25 but forced 22 turnovers while only committing nine.
“Our goal is to have 14 or less turnovers every game and force 18 or more,” Vanover said. “We talk about stats, but if we do those things, if we’re playing well, we can make those things happen. And coming out in the third quarter, only allowing one field goal, that’s where we separated a bit.”
Miami East — which has now won six straight matchups against Troy, including winning 40-23 last season — has a pair of tough road matchups coming up next, one against Cross County Conference rival Franklin Monroe Thursday and then on at Anna on Dec. 29. Troy, meanwhile, will host Ponitz on Dec. 29. The last time Troy defeated Miami East was on Jan. 8, 2011, in a 40-37 win.
“This is a rivalry game, and it’s becoming more and more of one, too,” Johnson said. “Bruce has scouted us a few times and he does a great job, and we knew he’d have his girls ready to play. But my girls don’t quit. My girls fight. I think if a couple shots fall here or there, it’s a different story.
“We’re 5-4 now. We could be better — and we will be better.”
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.