Falcons Keep Plugging Along; Take Out Johns Hopkins 65-43
Grantham, PA — At this rate, Messiah head coach Mike Miller won’t soon be longing for senior-laden, experienced teams from the program’s storied past.
It seems a freshman-dominated, new-look group can handle itself just fine.
Messiah rang up its sixth win in as many tries Tuesday night in Brubaker Auditorium, hanging a 65-43 defeat on an athletic and individually talented Johns Hopkins University team.
The win was preceded by the Falcons being ranked #18 in Tuesday’s USA Today/ESPN Top 25 Poll and #15 in the new D3hoops.com Top 25 ballot, impressive early-season accolades for a team that returned just four players off of last season’s 23-5 team — losing 76 percent of its scoring and 71 percent of its rebounding from a year ago.
Apparently no matter for Miller and company, as the squad actually bettered last season’s 5-1 start with its dominating win Tuesday evening.
“I love my team,” Miller said afterward. “I love the leadership that (senior) Julie and (junior) Michele Schleich have brought, and I love our younger players. I’m thrilled with how we played tonight. Johns Hopkins has some talented players and can force turnovers. I thought we handled what they wanted to do very well.”
Messiah (6-0) wasted no time in getting off to another strong start, scoring the first four points of the game off a layup from Schleich and a jumper from freshman Dori Gyori. Johns Hopkins (4-4) sustained itself midway through the period, however, taking a 14-10 lead behind a pesky full court press and pressure throughout the floor.
Miller’s team finished with an 18-5 run to close the half, though, seemingly figuring out how to break the Blue Jays’ pressure by experience: After turning the ball over 10 times in the game’s first 11 minutes, the Falcons shored things up over the final 29 minutes of play, committing just 14 giveaways.
Only eight of the team’s 24 total turnovers came after halftime.
“I think we were able to learn how to break the press as the game went on,” Miller said. “We got much better at attacking it. It (the press) was a great learning experience for us, especially for our freshmen. You don’t have to lose to learn something.”
A layup from one of those freshmen — first-year Julia Groves — sparked Messiah’s aforementioned first-half run, while six different players scored to sustain it.
When freshman Kira Maier scored a jumper with seven minutes elapsed in the second half, Messiah had a 44-25 lead and was rolling. A long ball from freshman Nicky Hess made it a 21-point affair (52-31) with 7:38 to play, while a late triple from sophomore Karolena Szolack gave the Falcons their largest lead of the game — 65-41 — with 1:20 to play.
Only a late post bucket from JHU’s Steph Kielb helped trim that deficit, as Messiah had recorded its third win of the season by 20 or more points.
Gyori continued to be a force for Messiah, recording her second consecutive double-double with 13 points and 11 boards. Schleich also scored 13 on a ridiculous, yet becoming commonplace, five of six shooting effort.
Henninger added 12 points on a six of eight shooting clip from the field, but turned in a season-high seven assists, limiting herself to a singular turnover.
“I thought tonight was a game where we kept getting better, in all aspects, from start to finish,” Miller said. “I thought our movement was better as the game went on, our defense got better, our entry passes improved, everything. We wanted to disrupt them, and I thought our defensive pressure did that. To hold them 20 points under their (season scoring) average was wonderful.”
Messiah will not have long to savor its latest victory, as a rare contest in an NBA arena is next: The Falcons will make a quick turnaround to face Lehman College tomorrow afternoon in the IZOD Center, home of the New Jersey Nets. Messiah and Lehman will face off at 3 p.m. The Nets will host the Golden State Warriors later that evening.
“It was an opportunity that I thought we’d really enjoy,” Miller said of the NBA-venue tilt. “I’m very excited about it, and I know the girls are as well. From a scheduling standpoint, we’re looking at it as practice for March. Having to play two games in two days? You see that every weekend if you’re in the NCAA Tournament. We’re approaching this stretch just like we would a post-season situation. We’re looking forward to it.”