By Josh Brown
Troy Daily News
COVINGTON — Whether it gets going off the opening tip or it takes a while, the Covington girls basketball team is extremely difficult to slow down once it gets going.
Newton found out just how difficult Thursday night.
Covington senior Sammi Whiteman overcame a slow start and dropped in a game-high 22 points — plus added six rebounds and six assists during the brief time she struggled with her shot — leading the Buccaneers to a convincing 64-35 victory over the visiting Indians Thursday in Cross County Conference play.
Granted, “struggled with her shot” is a relative phrase to use to describe Whiteman’s night. After missing a number of first-quarter 3s, she finally hit one at the end of the first to make the score 17-9 Covington, then she hit three more in the second quarter, finished the first half with 18 points and then focused more on distributing in the third quarter before resting the entire fourth.
“I just keep shooting,” Whiteman said. “Coach always tells me to keep shooting, and they finally started falling a little bit. So I just kept going, trusted my shot, trusted my teammates and tried to pass the ball off and find what was open. When I’m not hitting shots, I try to contribute any way I can, so getting on the boards and passing to open teammates is really important.”
Newton (5-7, 3-3 CCC) stayed close in the early part of the game, trailing by only six at 19-13 after a jumper by Brooke Deeter. But Covington (11-1, 6-0 CCC) — which won its eighth straight — finished the second quarter on a 21-4 run, taking a 40-17 lead at the break and never looking back.
“We’ve had slow starts, and we’ve had games where we just come out right away,” Whiteman said. “That’s what I love about us. We’re just patient, we find what’s open and we stay confident and calm no matter how we start off. That’s been a really big part of our game this year.”
“We were down six points with six minutes or so to go in the second quarter. And then we were down 23 at the half,” Newton coach Steve Fisher said. “That stretch, defensively, we just allowed too much that we couldn’t allow — penetration, we put them on the free throw line, we gave up second chances, all of the things that we put on the board before the game that we couldn’t do, we gave up.
“We had goals coming in, and we just didn’t accomplish any of them during that six-minute stretch. And then we came out in the third and just didn’t make shots. I’ve said this for a long time, that a good offense can hide a lot of other deficiencies, and we just were not good offensively tonight — and for a stretch, not very good defensively.”
Covington coach Jim Meyer wasn’t surprised by Newton’s scrappy start to the game, much as he wasn’t surprised by his team’s performance later on.
“First of all, we’ve seen Newton play in person once (at the Covington Holiday Classic) and twice on tape, and they have the ability to hang with teams,” he said. “I told the kids early on that they are going to come at you and hit shots, and the game is going to be close — and you have to be ready to play. And that’s what they did. Steve had his kids prepared to play, and they came and played hard. And our kids, we didn’t have a real good shooting night early, but we started to settle in.
“Anytime we can push the ball down the floor and get some easy baskets, that helps. We got to the line early, and that helped. I was real pleased with our effort.”
Covington continued to pull away in the third quarter, outscoring Newton 20-5 to take a 60-22 lead heading into the final quarter. And with Whiteman off the floor and both teams subbing heavily, the Indians outscored the Buccs 13-4 in the fourth to finish the game off.
After Whiteman’s 22 points, Claudia Harrington added 11, Morgan Kimmel had eight points and five rebounds, Lillian Hamilton and Lauren Christian each had six points and five rebounds and Makenzee Maschino had five points and 14 rebounds as the Buccs won the battle of the boards 49-27. Morgan Lowe chipped in four points and Leah Poling scored two. Covington also won the turnover battle by forcing 13 and committing 12 — with eight of the Buccs’ turnovers coming in the fourth quarter.
Deeter led Newton with 11 points and seven rebounds, Ally Weaver scored six points and Mallory Dunlevy had five points and five rebounds. Tori Benedict, Jaden Stine and Michaela Kirk each scored three points and Camryn Gleason and Maddie Hildebrand both scored two.
Also with the win, the Buccs remained tied atop the CCC with Tri-Village at 6-0, meaning Newton goes from playing one of this year’s contenders directly to playing last year’s champion — the Indians host Miami East on Jan. 10.
“We knew coming into the holiday tournament that we’d have Milton-Union, possibly Covington, and then Covington right away again and Miami East. That’s four games that we knew would be a tough stretch,” Fisher said. “And we’ve got some games coming up that we feel like we have to win. We’ll come back Monday and work a little harder.”
Covington, meanwhile, has arguably its two biggest games coming up. The Buccs host Arcanum — which sits in second place with only one CCC loss this year — on Saturday before traveling to Tri-Village on Jan. 10 to take on the Patriots.
“Our next two games are going to go a long way in determining where we finish in the league, with Arcanum coming in Saturday and then we go to Tri-Village,” Meyer said. “We’re going to have two really good tests in a row to see where we are. But those are the kind of games you want to play in, and the kids get excited for them. Hopefully we can bring our best.”
“Coach always reminds us to stay focused on the game that’s next, because you never know how a team can come out and play,” Whiteman said.
Josh Brown is the Sports Editor of the Troy Daily News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.