East Lansing’s 14-point halftime lead shrank to nine as Haslett made a push during the third quarter to get back into a game it had dominated out of the gate. With 38.6 seconds left in the third, senior Viking guard Audrey Archambault converted two free throws to trim the Trojans’ lead over the Vikings down to single digits, 29-20.
As the clock ticked past 20 seconds remaining in the third, senior Trojan guard Annelise Lebeda hoisted a 3-pointer from the corner, directly in front of her team’s bench. As the shot spun through the net, East Lansing set up its press defense.
Haslett inbounded the ball, and as the clock closed in on 10 seconds left, an errant pass was intercepted by senior Trojan guard Allie Mayes, who fired a pass to her left.
Lebeda, who had moved from the corner by the bench to the wing on the opposite side, in front of the EL parents, caught Mayes’s pass with about 5 seconds to go. She rose and buried another triple, beating the buzzer.
The fans behind Lebeda sprang to their feet, as Trojans Head Coach Rob Smith ran out to the free throw line with his bench players to celebrate Lebeda’s scoring flurry. In less than 30 seconds, Lebeda added six points to a nine-point lead to start the fourth quarter leading, 35-20.
“And then we stole it and threw it to her and she hit another three at the buzzer — that had to have felt like a crushing blow to Haslett,” Smith said. “That was kinda, that was kind of the final straw, or the last dagger, or however you want to put it. But to end the third quarter, that was super sweet.”
While Lebeda’s 1-2 punch to end the third quarter removed all doubt about the winner, the Trojans had to lean on their defense just to survive the first quarter. Smith said the first frame on Saturday was the worst his team has played this season — and the first time it trailed in a game.
And it was a spark off the bench from junior guard Payton Baker that spurred the Trojans past the Vikings in the second quarter — EL outscored Haslett 20-2 in the frame — and on to a 49-30 home victory. The result keeps East Lansing undefeated and marks Haslett’s first loss of the season.
“We talked after the game and we all agreed that we played probably our worst game of the year, against an undefeated team, and beat ’em by 19,” Smith said. “So, you know, that’s pretty darn good.”
Neither team started the game well. Haslett, by virtue of hitting two early 3s, managed an 8-4 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Trojans’ offense, normally very dangerous from 3-point range, was smothered by a 2-3 zone defense that the Vikings had extended beyond the 3-point line.
Trojan guards Bre’Naya Lane, Soraya Timms, and Lebeda moved the ball around the outside but didn’t find any space. And when they tried beating defenders off the dribble or skipping a pass over the zone, it often resulted in a turnover. East Lansing didn’t score a point with its halfcourt offense in the first quarter. The four points came from a fast break layup and two made free throws.
So, with the offense floundering to start, the East Lansing defense clamped down. The Trojans’ press didn’t affect the Haslett guards much, and after the two early threes, it looked like EL was in danger of getting blown out. By good fortune or defense, Haslett struggled to make shots and didn’t get 3-point shooters as open as the EL defense settled down.
“Kudos to Haslett,” Smith said. “I mean, that’s the first time in all year long or all season long that we’ve been behind. And not only were we behind, but we were down 8-4 after one quarter. And I just thought the kids really did a nice job of not panicking. They continued to do their job defensively. And you know, they showed a lot of grit.”
Helping lead the defensive charge was Baker, who came off the bench and immediately sparked the defense for the Trojans. She hounded her assignment on inbounds passes, frequently tipping and intercepting them. She pestered ball handlers while pressing and in the half court, tying them up or just poking the ball free.
After being a stabilizing defensive presence in the first quarter, Baker began turning the defense into offense in the second.
Early in the second quarter, Baker subbed in. EL had just taken a 13-10 lead and Haslett was inbounding the ball. Baker intercepted the pass and fed a pass to Lane, who buried a 3 to put the Trojans up by six.
With 3:22 left until halftime, with the score still at 16-10, After nearly stealing an inbounds on the prior possession, Baker stole the ball in open play and assisted Mayes on a transition bucket. As Haslett tried to inbound the ball after the layup, Baker knocked that pass out of bounds.
Smith subbed Baker out of the game then, and she trotted over to the bench where she plopped into a padded folding chair, took a drink of water and leaned forward, sitting with her elbows resting on her knees, trying to catch her breath. A few minutes later, frustrated with another player on defense, Smith turned and subbed in Baker for the remainder of the half.
“Whenever you can have a player come off the bench, your sixth person come off the bench and have that kind of impact,” Smith said, “you really know that you have something special as a team.”
After Baker provided the spark off the bench, the Trojans just needed to keep the Vikings at arm’s length in the second half, leading by 14 points at halftime.
Haslett didn’t make it easy early, hitting two threes quickly in the second half and gumming up the Trojans’ offense out of the break. Despite that, the closest the Vikings could get was 29-20, and Lebeda erased those gains just as quickly as they came.
From trailing for the first time all season to a double-digit win, Smith left the ELHS gym on Saturday evening impressed.
“And it really was one of those afternoons where not a lot went right for us,” Smith said. “And we won by 19. So that says a lot about our kids’ mental approach to the game. That regardless of the situation, we’re going to come together and we’re going to take care of business.”