By Tom Robinson
OXON HILL, Md. – JB Hoops Bucci extended two streaks early Monday morning when Lauren Charlton scored 22 points and sparked a game-deciding run for a 56-43 Pool G victory over CyFair Elite Platinum O’Bryant from Texas.
The 13th straight win improved JB Hoops to 4-0 and allowed it to clinch advancing from pool play to bracket play at the USJN 17U Girls Nationals for the third straight year.
Charlton, a 6-foot senior going into her senior season at Dallas, piled up her points in just 16 minutes before sitting out the final five-plus minutes to rest a sore ankle.
To refer to any contest as a “physical AAU game” is a bit of a redundancy, but JB Hoops, already putting ice packs to use to deal with a variety of aches of pains, stood up to a particularly rough challenge in its next-to-last game of pool play.
“Every game is physical, but there are definitely some that are a lot more and this was definitely one of them,” said Charlton. “When people tend to be more physical than us, we just try to give it back to them. If they’re doing it to us and the refs aren’t calling it, we just have to give it right back.
“You have to make yourself a lot stronger, both mentally and physically.”
Charlton was 8-for-14, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range. She scored the first seven points of a 21-4 run to erase the last JB Hoops deficit early in the second half.
After starting the tournament 2-for-15, Charlton has made 11 of 19 attempts from 3-point range.
“Right now, I am feeling better about my shot,” said Charlton, who credited the team’s bonding for finding each other in the right spots to score.
CyFair scored the first basket of the second half, but Charlton scored the next seven points. She drained a 3-pointer on a kick out from Nya Johnson, hit a runner in transition and added an easier basket off the Fastbreak.
Charlton scored the first seven as JB Hoops scored nine straight, then Moriah Murray had the last four as the team put together eight more in a row for a combined 21-4 run to a 49-34 lead with 7:20 left.
JB Hoops had one more 15-point lead on Charlton’s final 3-pointer, then spread the floor and efficiently ran time off the clock to seal the victory.
“We don’t have a delay game,” coach John Bucci said. “I just pick the person that I don’t think they can guard and we give them the ball.
“The girls know how to play basketball. That’s the key.”
JB Hoops shot 11-for-17 (64.7 percent) and ran time off the clock while matching its first-half total of 28 points.
Bucci pointed to the scoreboard to point out a more significantly difference between the halves.
“Our defense leads to our offense,” he said. “We run good half-court stuff, but we are good at transition, too, as long as we play good defense.
“We gave up 28 points in the first half, which is very uncommon for us. The second half, we gave up 15 points. That’s the difference in the game.
“We can’t lose sight of what our strength is. Our strength is our defense.”
Mackenzie Steele was a part of that defense with two blocks. The 6-foot-2 center also repeatedly popped out to take passes at the high post and beyond. From there, she had four assists.
“I think it’s because we’re also looking for that a lot more now than we had in the past,” Steele said of the assists that she had to go along with five points and four rebounds.
Steele, who missed the end of a division title performance at the Nike Tournament of Championships in Chicago and the beginning of the USJN Nationals with an ankle injury, is back to contributing in the post.
“I had to work a little bit faster than stronger because they were definitely stronger than I was,” Steele said.
Nya Johnson and Cecelia Collins added eight points each while Murray had seven. Johnson also had a team-high six rebounds.