In the opening seconds of Lawrence North’s visit to Homestead on Saturday afternoon, the Spartans appeared to be completely flummoxed by the Wildcats’ stifling defense.
Homestead’s first possession ended with a turnover, and about a minute into the game interim coach Kara Ankenbruck called a timeout when the Spartans seemed unable to get the ball past mid-court.
That timeout did the trick. Homestead quickly got on the board with a bucket by sophomore Ayanna Patterson, and from then on the Spartans rarely committed a turnover or appeared stymied by the Lawrence North press as they knocked off the previously undefeated Wildcats 44-30.
“It just kind of settled them down; we knew they were going to full-court press, we’ve seen it in video,” Ankenbruck said of Lawrence North (19-1), the No. 1 team in Class 4A according to the ICGSA poll. “We talked about how to break it, and I just needed to tell them we’re fine, take care of the ball. And from then on I think we only had two turnovers breaking their press.”
Senior guard Rylie Parker hit a 3-pointer to put No. 5-ranked Homestead up 5-4, and the Spartans (15-1) held onto the lead for the rest of the game.
The Wildcats struggled with shooting, particularly on long-range shots, for the entire game, while the Spartans outrebounded them by a 2-to-1 margin. On several possessions, Homestead grabbed at least three offensive rebounds before finally scoring.
“We had to pursue the ball,” Ankenbruck said. “We’ve been doing really well blocking out, but then we’re not going to get the ball. Today, we wanted the ball, and we made sure that any possessions where we had to block out, we were finding the ball after blocking out.”
Patterson and junior forward Amber Austin combined for 12 rebounds in the first half, providing plenty of second-half opportunities for senior Sydney Graber, who scored 12 points in the first half to give the Spartans a 23-14 lead heading into the break.
Graber scored her 1,000th point as a Spartan at the free-throw line late in the second quarter, and gestured for her teammates to join her on the court as she was recognized for the milestone at halftime.
“It was really exciting, especially coming in a big game like this,” Graber said. “Coming in, I didn’t expect anything. I just wanted to come out and do whatever I could to help my team win. It’s bittersweet, it’s always been a goal for me, and the fact that it happened tonight with a win just means so much.”
Graber did not score in the second half, but she did grab eight rebounds to finish the game with a double-double. Parker also finished the game with 12 points.
None of the Wildcats scored in double-digits as the Spartans held them to their lowest point total of the season.
Ankenbruck said Homestead purposefully played a slow, deliberate game that frustrated an athletic Lawrence North side.
“There were a couple times when we were taking a lot of time, and I know the fans were getting a bit anxious, because it was taking time, but we wanted to play very patient and very poised, and that’s what they did,” Ankenbruck said.
Graber said it was the kind of performance that should cause other teams to take note of the Spartans, who still haven’t lost to a team from Indiana.
“We came in the underdog, going against the No. 1 team in the state,” Graber said. “I think we worked really hard and we showed Indiana what’s up, so I’m happy with our defense, our offense. All positives today.”