OXON HILL, Md. – The JB Hoops defense took over in the second half, paving the way for some late offensive heroics that kept the team in title contention at the USJN 17U National Championships with a 38-32 victory over the Blue Crush from New Jersey Monday morning at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center.
Victoria Toomey keyed a fourth-quarter surge, then Lexi Walsh and Cassie Ksiazek hit the late free throws that allowed JB Hoops to improve to 3-1 going into its final Pool GG game Monday afternoon.
JB Hoops is currently in a three-way tie for the pool lead, but will finish either first or second (on a tiebreaker) with a win because the other teams in the tie, Maryland Pride and the Brooklyn Saints, play each other when pool play concludes at 12:35 today.
If JB Hoops wins and Maryland wins, JB Hoops advances into the eight-team Silver Division Championship Bracket. If JB Hoops and Brooklyn win, Brooklyn would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker and JB Hoops would play in the Silver Division Consolation Bracket.
Depending on tiebreakers, JB Hoops could potentially finish second and still reach the Consolation Bracket even with a loss to the winless Northstars from Connecticut.
All those possibilities were in serious jeopardy early Monday when JB Hoops struggled through a lethargic first half in the 9:10 a.m. game.
For the second straight game, JB Hoops needed to rally from an 11-point deficit to pull out the win.
“We have not put together 32 minutes,” coach John Bucci said. “We have not put together 24 minutes.
“That’s the frustrating part for me as a coach.”
Defense led the way for JB Hoops, limiting Blue Crush to nine points and just 11 shot attempts in the second half while forcing 16 of the New Jersey team’s 24 turnovers.
“Our offense is ultimately fueled by our defense,” Bucci said. “That’s when we play well.
“I can’t get them to play hard on defense until we’re down 11.”
JB Hoops managed just one basket in the first 7:19 as Blue Crush jumped out to a 13-3 lead. The lead reached 23-12 before Ksiazek hit a runner in the lane for the last basket of the first half.
Toomey, who scored all of her team-high nine points in the second half, had five points and set up a Leah Hodick basket as JB Hoops made it into the paint for every point of an 11-point streak to tie the game for the first time at 23-23 with 5:19 left in the third.
“In the second half, we kind of got our composure together and we played better as a team,” Hodick said.
The teams were tied again at 25 and 27
Blue Crush moved ahead for the final time before JB Hoops put together a closing 11-4 run to pull out the win.
Ksiazek hit one of two free throws off a steal to cut the deficit to 29-28 with 3:36 left.
That’s when Toomey went to work.
“Vic has to be more assertive inside,” Bucci said. “That’s the reality.”
Toomey established position inside and converted entry passes by Ksiazek and Leah Hodick with strong post moves.
The first of those baskets put JB Hoops ahead to stay with 3:10 left.
“When I was on the bench, they were telling me to switch sides and mix it up,” Toomey said. “That was actually the first time I went to that side and Cassie set me up real well.”
Hodick’s feed off a high-low play in the post led to the next basket.
“We’ve been working on that,” Toomey said. “Our post players usually find each other.”
Toomey then grabbed a defensive rebound and made a long outlet pass. Hannah Smith was off and running for the layup and a 34-29 lead.
Blue Crush made one last threat with a 3-pointer for its only basket of the final 4:25, but JB Hoops, which was plagued by turnovers earlier in the tournament, protected the ball well down the stretch.
Once Blue Crush used up the five fouls it had to give, JB Hoops connected at the line.
Walsh followed up Sunday’s game-winning free throws against Nike CyFair Shooters from Texas, by hitting both ends of a one-and-one with 21.4 seconds left.
Ksiazek, who finished with eight points and a team-high three steals, did the same 13 seconds later to close the scoring.
Toomey also led the team in rebounds (five) and assists (three).
A loss and a finish or third or worse in the pool would end the tournament for JB Hoops.