Photo: Belmont High School Girls Basketball.
A slow start coupled with free throw shooting as cold as all outdoors resulted in the Belmont High Girls Basketball falling from the undefeated as the Marauders lost to Newton South, the top-ranked team in eastern Massachusetts, 44-35, in the title game of the Garden City Basketball Holiday Invitational held at Newton North High School Thursday, Dec. 28.
“The team struggled offensively in the first half so you’re forced to battle back against a very good team for the rest of the game,” said Belmont Head Coach Melissa Hart.
In what was essentially a home game for the Warriors at Newton North , Belmont failed to find the rhythm in the offensive side of the ball until midway through the third quarter when the Marauders cut a 15 point deficit to five, 38-33, with just under three minutes to play.
With Belmont knocking on the door, the Lions turned to its leader senior guard Veronica Burton who put the game on ice with a bucket, two free-throws off a steal and a pass that led to a free-throw on consecutive times up the court.
“[Burton’s] quite a player, scoring half of their points but also involved one way or another in most of them,” Hart said about the Northwestern-bound all-star who tallied 21 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and 3 steals against the Marauders.
Not that the game didn’t start on the upswing with Belmont scoring baskets on its first drives of the game to lead 4-1. It was then Newton South – a Division 1 South powerhouse coming off a 16-4 record last year – took off on a 14-1 run to end the first quarter, 15-5.
“While [Newton South wasn’t] shooting the lights out, they got off an awful lot of shots, more than I would have liked to see,” said Hart. “I thought early in the second quarter, ‘they’re going to score 80 on us’.”
While the Marauders defense began to stem the bleeding in the second quarter, the offense continued finding it hard to take advantage of Belmont’s frontline height difference.
“Their guard defense just made it difficult for us to get the ball into the middle,” Hart said.
Hart placed junior guard Meghan Tan – who along with backcourt partner senior captain Carly Christfori played the entire 32 minutes of the game – to play man-on-man on Burton, but did not attempt to send other defenders to assist Tan on the Newton South star.
“We couldn’t do everything we wanted to against Burton because the other kids on Newton South were really good,” said Hart, pointing to the four 3s Burton’s teammates hit including a pair from fellow senior Paige Ollivierre. “If we would have sent more players to [Burton], we would have been killed from the outside.”
At the half, Newton South doubled up Belmont 26-13, who were hurt by what has been an almost historic bugaboo for the Marauders; not taking advantage of chances from the charity stripe. Belmont went 2 for 6 in the first half and a woeful 4 for 11 in the second half.
But Belmont kept the game close enough so when Tan hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer, Belmont was only down by 9, 34-25, having outscored the Lions, 12-8, in a strong third quarter on both ends of the court. During the team’s last-minute push, Christofori scored 7 of her team-high 11 points in the first five minutes of the quarter as freshman Maiya Bergdorf (5 points including a three) hit a deuce and junior sixth man Jane Mahon (5 points) went 1-2 from the line.
While the Marauders did hold Newton South to just a pair of baskets in the final quarter, it was Burton who almost singlehandedly finished off Belmont, including going 5 for 8 from the free throw line in the final stanza.
“We didn’t play a perfect game. We have further to go than they do and to me that the good news,” said Hart. “I see us getting better throughout the season. It’s an early-season loss to a good team.”