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Late free throws push JB Hoops to victory

OXON HILL, Md. – JB Hoops could not get to a rebound early in Sunday’s game against the Nike CyFair Shooters.

Morgan Haefele and Lexi Walsh got to the two that mattered most.

Walsh followed up an offensive rebound by hitting the deciding two free throws with 5.1 seconds left to complete a JB Hoops comeback for an improbable, 52-50 victory in the USJN 17U National Championships at the Gaylord Convention Center.

“That’s something my Mom always tells me, that foul shots win games,” Walsh said. “It’s all about focus on the line.”

Lexi Walsh

Walsh was able to find that focus after a tense finish in a game that CyFair, from Cypress, Texas, twice led by 11 points in the third quarter.

CyFair came in as the only team in Pool GG that had won its first two games and had done so with relative ease.

The same appeared to be shaping up when CyFair made up for its shooting woes, claiming 42 extra first-half possessions by forcing 22 turnovers and getting to 20 offensive rebounds.

Cassie Ksiazek and Victoria Toomey then led a second-half comeback that paved the way for Haefele and Walsh to make the clutch plays down the stretch.

The win allowed JB Hoops to force a four-way tie for the pool lead at 2-1. Going into Monday’s final two pool games, JB Hoops is tied with the three teams it has already played.

Ksiazek had 10 of her team-high 13 points in the second half, including a baseline drive for a three-point play and the first JB Hoops lead of the half, 50-47, with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter.

“I think everything clicked,” Ksiazek said. “As a team we moved the ball really well.

“ … It is an upset in our bracket, so I’m real happy.”

Toomey, the team’s leading scorer in the tournament, finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. She had nine points, eight rebounds and three blocks in the second half.

“Vic was way more active in the last two quarters coming up and challenging shots,” coach John Bucci said. “When she’s challenging shots, we’re a much better team.”

JB Hoops managed three ties in the final 5:07 when Leah Hodick converted a Lauren Charlton pass, when Ksiazek hit a 3-point shot and when Lisa Tallo got to a back-side offensive rebound for a layup with 1:40 left.

After Ksiazek put JB Hoops ahead, CyFair forced a tie on its own three-point play, then got possession, calling timeout with 28.8 seconds left to set up a play to try to take the lead.

Morgan Haefele

Haefele, inserted in the late-game offensive-defensive substitutions to take on the game’s toughest defensive assignment, forced an off-balance shot on a drive, then retrieved the rebound.

“I knew coach said grab a rebound and get it up the sideline to call timeout,” Haefele said, “so I just grabbed it and tried to get it upcourt.”

Ksiazek took a shot for the lead and when the rebound was batted away, Walsh won the race to it near the foul line.

“I knew we needed to do something, so I got a quick shot up and I got fouled,” Walsh said.

Walsh then hit the shots that decided the game. She scored seven in the second half and finished with nine points, making all five of her foul shots and both field goal attempts.

Getting shots, however, was a problem for JB Hoops.

CyFair took 64 field goal attempts and 25 free throws while JB Hoops was trying just 35 shots from the floor and 22 foul shots.

JB Hoops’ turnovers and CyFair’s offensive rebounds were the reason.

CyFair missed its first 19 shots, but got 15 of them back on offensive rebounds.

JB Hoops fought all the way back to win the overall rebounding battle for the game. Toomey got support from Mackenzie Steele and Kiana Williams with six each along with Ksiazek and Walsh with five each.

While outrebounding CyFair, 19-9, in the second half, JB Hoops also drastically reduced its turnovers, from 22 in the first two quarters to 10 in the last two.

Bucci explained the formula.

“Fewer dribbles,” he said. “Pass to a quick pass. Cover the floor by moving the ball in the air not with the dribble.”

As a result, JB Hoops not only avoided turnovers, but also set up quality shots, going 12-for-19 (63.2 percent) for the second half.

Tallo had a team-high three assists. Charlton and Steele each had two steals.

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