MARSHALL — The Smith-Cotton girls basketball team struggled to score in the first half and fell to Eldon 53-17 Monday in the first round of the Marshall girls basketball tournament.
Eldon’s 6-2 junior center Sarah Rhine caused problems inside for the Smith-Cotton duo of Abby Knight and Abby Perkins. Rhine scored seven in the first quarter alone on her way to 17 for the game.
“She’s a dominant player,” said Smith-Cotton coach Zach Vandevender. “I know there are a lot of Division I schools going after her. She did a great job. She can pull the bigs out and knock down a shot. She did that well. She got a lot of points in transition. Their team pushed the ball well. They executed their offense. That’s a good team.”
To make matters worse, the Lady Tigers were hampered by Knight picking up her third foul in the first half.
“When Abby got into foul trouble in the first half, it definitely hurt,” Vandevender said. “I think we knew they were going to run the 1-1-3 defense, and we prepared for it. It’s just execution. It came down to execution on our part.”
With only three returning players, the Lady Tigers knew they were going to have a young lineup, and the youth movement continued Monday as two freshmen, point guard Jessica Coble and shooting guard Brianna Pollitt, were in the starting lineup.
“They were nervous,” Vandevender said. “The younger girls stepped up and they handled it. They’ve still got to learn and grow, and they will continue to get better.”
Coble finished with four points and Pollitt had one, but Coble’s ability to break Eldon’s press in the first half limited the effectiveness of that tactic for the Mustangs, and Pollitt got into passing lanes and created transition opportunities for the Lady Tigers. Coble split time at point guard with junior Kirby Lewellyn.
“She can get around the defense,” Vandevender said of Coble. “We’re working on getting her more physical and being able to handle that pressure at the 5A level.”
Eldon jumped out to a 20-1 lead, as Smith-Cotton missed its first eight shots from the field. The Lady Tigers also turned the ball over 12 times in the first quarter, although they limited those errors later in the game, committing four turnovers in the second quarter and seven in the second half.
“We settled down,” Vandevender said. “We got the first-game jitters, and I knew we would have them, but we’ll keep working.”
Eldon scored the first 11 points of the game, going inside to Rhine for three baskets and getting a basket in the paint from Becca Lasson and a jumper from Morgan Koerner. Smith-Cotton got on the board with a free throw by Pollitt.
Eldon scored the next nine points, capped by a Rhine basket inside, before Smith-Cotton made its first shot from the field, a Coble layup early in the second quarter.
Eldon followed that with a 12-0 run before Lydia Sharp hit a putback just before halftime to make it 32-5.
Knight, held scoreless in the first half while dealing with foul trouble, got on the board in the third quarter, hitting a pair of jumpers. Maddie Harding added a jumper later in the quarter, but Eldon was able to end the third with a 47-11 lead.
“That team is a good team,” Vandevender said. “I’m proud of the girls. We’re together for a couple years now, and we’ve got to continue to work as a team.”
The Lady Tigers will face Sacred Heart in the consolation semifinal at 6 p.m. today.