by BRYAN EVERSON
Utica coach Tom McDonald lost four seniors from the team that faced the Cougars in last year’s district final, but Tuesday night was still a mirage in at least one way.
“It looked pretty similar, the wrong team won,” he said laughingly.
Trailing just four points after halftime, the Chieftains suffered at the hands of Stoney Creek in the third quarter, resulting in a 53-25 road loss.
“They’re long, athletic and [Stoney Creek coach] Kellen [James] does a great job in getting them on the perimeter. They create matchup problems for you offensively, and defensively with all their different traps.”
The Chieftains (2-1) took a solid punch initially in the first quarter and responded well early. Despite falling behind by nine, junior guard Emily Suchoski drained a triple, and senior Brooke Chmiel sank a 3-pointer in the corner at the buzzer to close the gap to three at the end of the first quarter.
Both teams continued to trade shots, but the damage caused Utica to reel backwards after halftime. Leading just 23-19 early in the third quarter, the Cougars’ full-court pressure became too much for the visitors when Stoney started knocking down shots with consistency. Seniors Ally Voss and Morgan Porter connected on back-to-back 3-pointers, and one of six Utica turnovers in the quarter followed by a mid-range jumper off the dribble by Voss helped quickly build the first double-digit lead of the game.
Add in another 3-pointer here and a baseline jumper there, and by the end of the quarter, Stoney (3-1) had doubled up on the Chieftains, 40-20.
“We just lost track of a couple shooters, and against really nice shooters like this, all of a sudden it’s a three and a three and a two, and you go from five to 13 really quick, which is what happened,” McDonald said. “I wasn’t really pleased with how we handled it. It wasn’t horrible, laziness, we just didn’t talk…we kind of slumped our shoulders and it really got away from us.”
McDonald liked the early response when Utica trailed, but said that’s what made it all the more disappointing that his team couldn’t counter in some way throughout the third.
“Obviously, a little bit more [of a hole] getting down 13, but we didn’t respond like we did in the first half,” he said. “We missed six free throws and three or four layups, but still [being] only down six [at half], we thought we were in pretty good shape.”
“They’re pretty good. When you make mistakes, they’ll make you pay for them.”
It wasn’t until Julia Cantella connected on a 3-pointer with 6:54 to go that Utica was able to break the 19-1 run that propelled the Cougars, but even then, Stoney was able to get production from different places, like sophomore Emily Eckhout (13 points), who knocked down one 3-pointer and banked in another in the final eight minutes.
“In the district game last year, we hit a couple of quick 3’s that turned the tide,” he said. “Here, it was [won] more defensively. We took them out of what they wanted to do, and that was our whole idea, to make them uncomfortable. Not just steal it in the backcourt, but up the floor. Funnel them in, get quick steals and turn the tide that way.”
In the first two games of the season, and most of tonight, McDonald said he’s felt good about the defensive effort — he singled out Chmiel as a catalyst on that end in particular — but emphasized that production has to come offensively.
“We just haven’t shot it well, this is three games in a row,” McDonald said. “We do put a lot of pressure on our defense because our offense is struggling right now. We’ve got to get back to work to find easier shots, get some confidence, and hopefully that lends itself to some perimeter shots.
“At times we didn’t run the right thing, but a lot of it comes from just a lack of confidence. And not just with shots, but lacking in our footwork and fundamentals at times, forcing things that aren’t there and taking needless turnovers.”
Senior forward Lyndsey Lavelle led Utica with seven points, while sophomore forward Mone’ Knowles chipped in five, also.
Utica will have some time to figure things out, off until a game Jan. 3 against Stevenson.
“It’ll be a tough pill to swallow for three weeks, but we’ll get after it and see if we can come back stronger from it,” McDonald said.
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