By Tom Robinson
OXON HILL, Md. – JB Hoops Bucci located its offense just in time Saturday night in the opener of USJN 17U Girls Nationals at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor.
JB Hoops had scored just one basket in the previous 3:53 and was 2-for-18 on second-half, 3-point attempts when Lauren Charlton hit a 3-pointer to start a game-ending streak of eight straight points to pull out a 49-45 victory over Mass Frenzy Black.
“They were challenged and they handled it,” coach John Bucci said of his team.
The win got JB Hoops off to a 1-0 start in Pool G, going into two games each Sunday and Monday. A year ago, JB Hoops Bucci won its pool for the first time at USJN Nationals.
Charlton was one of the players who was struggling to convert offensively, but she made 3-pointers 12 seconds into the game and again with 1:15 left and JB Hoops trailing by four.
Moriah Murray was also having trouble converting. She was scoreless until Rachael Rose split a double-team near mid-court and found Murray for the go-ahead, three-point play with 50 seconds left.
Prior to the closing stretch, the Frenzy’s physical, aggressive defense had gotten to JB Hoops.
“They sped us up,” Bucci said. “ … When we play under control, we can handle that stuff.
“When they speed us up, we get out of control. Our guards need to do a better job of understanding the game.”
Both Charlton and Murray found other ways to get involved in the closing rally.
Following her 3-pointer, Charlton batted away a pass that Lindsey Welsh controlled for a JB Hoops steal.
After giving JB Hoops the lead, Murray rushed across the lane to swat away a shot on a Frenzy back-door cut for the potential, go-ahead basket.
Nya Johnson took a hard hit while converting underneath the basket off a Cecelia Collins pass in the delay game with 8.3 seconds left. Johnson was unable to add the free throw, but she had already made it a two-possession game.
The tense tournament opener featured 22 lead changes and 7 ties with neither team ever leading by more than 4 points.
Leah Hodick led the way for JB Hoops with 11 points and 8 rebounds, including 9 points and 5 rebounds in the first half.
Rose’s assist on the game-winning basket gave her eight for the game, along with four steals.
Welsh finished with eight points, five assists and five steals.
Charlton also had eight points and Collins added seven.
The Frenzy was hurting JB Hoops on the boards until midway through the first half.
JB Hoops grabbed just two rebounds in the first six minutes before wing player Taylor Huyck and guards Murray and Collins came off the bench and hit the boards hard.
Huyck converted an offensive rebound into a 16-15 lead.
Collins scored for an 18-17 lead after Murray hustled to get to a rebound.
Hodick gave JB Hoops a 25-23 lead 3:30 before halftime off a Welsh feed after another Huyck offensive rebound.
Johnson and Huyck each finished with six rebounds while Charlton had five for JB Hoops, which managed a 40-29 rebounding advantage while playing without 6-foot-2 center Mackenzie Steele.
“I was disappointed early in the game because our guards were not rebounding,” Bucci said. “We need our guards rebounding, especially with Steele not in the game.”
Bucci said JB Hoops hopes to get Steele, who is out with an ankle injury suffered during a division win at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Chicago earlier this month, back during the tournament.
The Frenzy moved in front, 32-30, early in the second half, continuing a 9-3 streak that had caused the 17th and final lead change of the first half.
JB Hoops only led for 12 more seconds in the final 14:15 – on a Collins 3-pointer for a 35-34 lead – until Murray’s winning basket in the final minute.
The schedule continues Sunday with games against Legacy Elite 17 from Kentucky at 11:25 a.m. and Carolina Waves 17 BSTT at 2:50 p.m. Both of Sunday’s opponents lost their openers in pool play Saturday.