Lady Bobcats 'steal' a win at Covenant

Taylor Bethune drives past Covenant's Glory Blankenship for a lay-up in the Lady Bobcats' 74-62 victory that gave them a 5-0 start on the season. (Photo by Scott Herpst)

After seeing a 13-point first-half lead evaporate and watching their top post player have to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter, the Georgia Northwestern Lady Bobcats turned to basketball's version of small ball against the Covenant College junior varsity squad Monday night.

Forced to play a lineup that did not include a player over 5-foot-7, the already short-handed Lady Bobcats frustrated the Lady Scots with a full-court press and answered the bell with a decisive 25-6 second-half run on their way to a 74-60 victory on the road at Barnes Gymnasium.

"We wanted to get this one tonight because next week, going to Warren Wilson (College), will be a much different game," Lady Bobcats head coach David Stephenson said. "It will probably be the toughest game we've had to this point and we wanted to keep building toward it."

Georgia Northwestern (5-0) stormed out of the gates and grabbed a 17-4 lead just five minutes into the contest. The Lady Bobcats were hitting on all cylinders, both with their outside shooting and with their transition game as several steals led to easy buckets at the other end.

The offensive pace would slow down in the second quarter. The Lady Bobcats still enjoyed a 12-point advantage with just under five minutes to play in the half when Emily Goff and Glory Blankenship began to shoot the Lady Scots back into the game. The duo combined for 22 first-half points, 15 by Goff, as they whittled the gap down to 37-32 by halftime.

Covenant would stay hot to begin the third quarter, tying things up with a 7-1 run and the Lady Scots would finally pull ahead for the first time, 45-43, with 3:16 left in the period. However, the momentum appeared to have swung decisively in favor of the home team just under a minute later.

With the score tied at 45, Georgia Northwestern's 6-foot-3 center Madison Lewis went down following a scramble for a loose ball with a right leg injury. Though she was able to put some weight on the leg, Lewis would be helped off the court and did not re-enter the game.

Already playing without point guard Katy Phillips, who missed the trip due to an illness, Stephenson was forced to go small and elected to press the bigger Lady Scots rather than trying to defend in the half-court set.

The strategy would work like a charm as the seven-player rotation started recording steal after steal and converting the turnovers into fastbreak baskets on the other end.

Georgia Northwestern would score the final seven points of the third quarter and built on their lead with a 10-2 run over the first 3:30 of the fourth quarter. They would eventually stretch it out to a 70-53 cushion on a nice tip pass from Mia Clark to Tori Harvey to beat the 30-second shot clock with just over three minutes remaining.

A couple of ill-advised shots late in the final period allowed Covenant to click off nine consecutive points and chop the lead back down to single digits with one minute to play. But Jayla Stone came up with one final steal - her team's 17th of the night - and the subsequent lay-up, while two more defensive stops in the final 30 seconds would seal the win.

"Every game this year, we've had somebody come off the bench and go crazy," Stephenson explained. "Tonight when Madison went out, Taylor Bethune came in and starting driving to the basket and scoring points. She even hit a 3-pointer for us. That was key for us and when we go to our presses, we can do that a little bit better having a smaller lineup, so that was big for us too."

Harvey finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three assists, while Stone drained three 3-pointers and finished with 21 points. Bethune had a season-high 13 points to go with three steals, while Clark added seven points and two steals.

Lewis and Tori Hall had four points apiece, while Hall also collected five steals. Christina DeSalvo rounded out the scoring with three.

Goff had 25 for Covenant, followed by Blankenship with 17.

"The first five minutes of the first half and for about a three to four-minute span of the second half, we were on fire," Stephenson added. "We couldn't miss and we couldn't do anything wrong, so if we could put something like that together for an entire game, I'd be really happy."

The clash with Warren Wilson, the next game on the Lady Bobcats' slate, will take place on Dec. 1 in Asheville, N.C. and Covenant's JV team will come to the Rossville Athletic Center on Dec. 5 for a rematch.

Monday's win extended Georgia Northwestern's season-opening winning streak to five, tying the women's program record for consecutive victories. The five straight victories to begin the season is the second-longest season-opening streak in school history.

The only run that was longer came in the first season of basketball at the school when the men's team - then known as the Northwestern Mustangs - ran the table by winning all 11 games in its inaugural Technical College System of Georgia slate. That team was also coached by Stephenson.