PRINCETON Opening up the season with three losses, the South Johnston girls basketball team has been searching for the right combination of players and the right style of play to find its rhythm.
On Tuesday night at Princeton, the Trojans may have done just that as they pulled away for a 53-41 road victory, their first of the season.
Kayla Allen, Krista Collins and Alexis Massengill helped to hold off a late Bulldogs charge and outscored Princeton 22-12 in the final quarter.
The Trojans held the lead for the first 21 minutes of the contest but could never find separation from a resilient Bulldogs squad. However, after Charley Cox put Princeton up for the first time late in the third quarter, South Johnston answered and turned up its defense to generate some much-needed turnovers.
“We finally just got a little bit more aggressive in our man-to-man defense,” South Johnston coach Ronda Langdon said. “We got in foul trouble and when you lose the chemistry of a certain group that’s played together so long, it took us a little bit to get into the flow of things.”
A Krista Collins jumper in the final seconds of the third quarter gave the Trojans the lead for good although Princeton would make them earn it.
The Bulldogs pulled out the full court press in the fourth quarter to varying degrees of success, but in the end, the Trojans made enough free throws (10-20 in the final quarter) to hold off Princeton.
“Right there at that moment of who was going to get the edge, they were a little more poised than we were and showed a little bit more composure,” said Princeton coach Marty Gurganus.
After having a difficult time putting points on the board in the first half, the Bulldogs trailed 20-13 at the break. That’s when Gurganus called for his team to run a set that would put the ball in two of his most proven scorers’ hands.
The plan worked out like a charm as Charley Cox and Savanna Massengill took turns going to the basket.
Massengill totaled nine of her team-high 21 points in the third quarter and Cox scored seven in the period to draw Princeton (1-1) to within two points by the start of the final quarter.
“We just ran a set play that either gave Savanna or Charley a chance to take a shot and we started hitting them,” Gurganus said. “In the first half, I thought we had some looks that didn’t go down.
“In the third quarter, I thought we shot better and hit some of the same shots I thought we had in the first half.”
The Trojans’ response had a lot to do with learning when to take their chances and when to hold back.
Allen scored seven points in the final quarter, Collins added five and Alexis Massengill scored four of her 10 points to give South Johnston the cushion it had been looking for the whole game.
“When we attack, we play better and when we lay back, we don’t,” Langdon said. “When we finally found a groove, we took it to the goal if we had it and, if not, pull it out and we’ll take some time off the clock.”
Allen led the Trojans with 14 points and sophomore Anna Webster had 13 points and six rebounds.
Savanna Massengill hauled down nine rebounds to go with her 21 points while Cox finished with 13 points.