Ellison head coach Sherry McKinnon said Monday that she hoped to see her team win by playing better defense than last season.
And on Tuesday, that defense — and sophomore Aujunnae Smith — were key as the Lady Eagles rallied from a 13-point deficit to defeat Austin Bowie 50-44 in front of an electric crowd at Ellison gymnasium.
“We did pick it up defensively,” McKinnon said. “I thought we did a good job not giving up offensive rebounds in the second half and blocking out pretty good.
“So we definitely needed defense because we weren’t shooting very well.”
Ellison scored more points in the fourth quarter (27) than it had in the previous three quarters combined thanks largely to Smith, who had 12 of her team-high 20 points in the final quarter.
Smith also had a game-high 16 rebounds as she looked to make up for lost time after missing a large part of last season due to injury,
“I had to come back this season and play after being out last year,” Smith said, “and I just had to show my presence on the court.”
None of the Lady Eagles, however, were able to get going early as Bowie took a 22-15 lead into halftime.
That lead then swelled to 13 early in the third as Bowie scored the first six points of the second half, culminating with a Gwen Johnson jumper for a 28-15 advantage at the 6;14 mark.
Kianna Ray scored the rest of the Lady Bulldogs’ points in the period en route to a game-high 21 points.
But Ellison was able to hold Ray without a field goal in the fourth quarter after she exited with foul trouble in the third, which helped jump-start the Lady Eagle rally.
“We had to attack their best player,” said Ellison’s Feliziana Davis, who defended Ray for the majority of her first varsity game. “Once we did that, we had to take advantage of the boards. And when we did that, everything else opened up.”
Ellison scored the first six points of the fourth to pull within two then later grabbed its first lead on a feed from Madison Hattix-Covington to Smith for a 34-33 lead with 5:04 to play.
The Lady Eagles went up by as many as 10 when Smith put back her own miss for a 45-35 advantage with 3:07 to play and kept the Lady Bulldogs at bay in the final minutes to pull out the win.
And while McKinnon said her team still had a long way to go after Tuesday, she was certainly happy that it was able to pull out a win when nothing was going its way early on.
“I told them it was ugly, but there’s no such thing as a pretty loss,” McKinnon said, “so I’ll take the ugly win.”