Bulldogs' defense squeezes life out of Lincoln Prep
Saturday, March 8, 2008
COLUMBIA — If it didn't force a single turnover the entire game, Notre Dame's pressure defense still was having the desired effect in the Class 4 state semifinal game Friday afternoon.
The Bulldogs were wearing down the legs of the Lincoln Prep guards, slowly and steadily making them work for each dribble up the floor. Eventually, rising up to take that jump shot was going to get more difficult as the game went on.
"We won the game defensively," Notre Dame coach Paul Hale said.
Just not right away, as senior Justin Henderson torched the Bulldogs for 33 points — nearly double his season average. He scored 19 in the first half with 6-for-8 shooting on 3-pointers to keep the Tigers in the game.
But by the end of the game, it was clear Henderson was the only scoring threat Friday for Lincoln Prep, which shot 37.9 in the second half and 34.4 percent for the day when anyone but Henderson shot the ball.
"I think the pressure wore them down in the end," Notre Dame junior guard John Unterreiner said. "Against a team like that, we knew it'd be tough to get a lot of turnovers. But their guards have to handle the ball the whole game with a guy on them, and that wears you down after a while."
Lincoln Prep coach Marshall Draper admitted as much.
"Sometimes you lose your legs," he said. "You get tired and the shots weren't falling like they usually do."
And as the legs were wearing out, Notre Dame delivered a blow in the third period that made the Tigers even more wobbly.
The teams had played to a 31-31 deadlock after one half and were knotted at 37-37 in the third period when Notre Dame's pressure defense had its full effect on Lincoln Prep.
Notre Dame came up with three steals by three different players in a 78-second span that turned the game. The Bulldogs cashed in on each of them in an 8-0 run, and they never led by less than five after that.
"I think the thing about them is they're relentless," Draper said. "They keep coming and keep coming and keep coming."
That's surely what it felt like when the Bulldogs unleashed their flurry.
Unterreiner tipped the ball away from Henderson's control to Ty Williams and the Bulldogs turned the possession into a basket by Ryan Willen on an inbounds play.
Lincoln Prep's Deron Lloyd then missed a 3-pointer, Williams chased the rebound in the corner and got the ball to Unterreiner, who fed Greer on the baseline for a basket. Fourteen seconds later, Nick Koeppel pressured Lloyd along the sideline, which led to a pass directly to Greer, who found Unterreiner running up the court for a layup. Koeppel made a steal on the next possession and fed to Greer for a layin.
Just like that, Notre Dame finally had separation.
"That was the point when they were getting winded," Unterreiner said. "You have to handle the ball every time down the court, and on those three possessions, they didn't do that, and we scored off of it all three times."
Once ahead, Notre Dame is tough to top. The Bulldogs shoot better than 72 percent on free throws as a team.
After Williams and Mark Himmelberg hit key 3-pointers to bump five-point cushions back to eight, the Bulldogs made 12-of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter.
"It was a matter of time before we started clicking," Greer said. "We have played better games and we knew it. But our guards ran their guards pretty good."
Ran the legs right out from under them.
Toby Carrig is editor of the Web site semoball.com