Ending on a down note: Strong start tapers off in Lady Panthers' loss to Horn
ROWLETT -- Friday night was a moment the Mesquite Horn girls basketball team hasn't savored since the 2009-10 season.
Granted, only two players on the current installment of the Lady Jaguars were on varsity at that time, but emotions were still on the upswing Friday as Horn's defense steadily clamped down on Plano East for a 52-37 victory in an area round playoff tilt from Rowlett.
"These girls are working hard, they're determined and they have a goal," said Casie Brewer, Horn head coach. "This was a fun win for us. Plano East beat us early in the season so it felt good to get a win at this point in the season."
The Lady Jaguars made their move inside the final three minutes of the second quarter, breaking open a narrowly contested first half into a 30-21 lead by the break.
Horn distanced from the Lady Panthers behind an 11-4 run fueled by offensive rebounds and ball movement in transition. Of their 14 made buckets in the first half, 10 were assisted, including a trey by senior Kristina Smith -- who led all scorers with 13 points -- with 10 seconds left for the nine-point lead.
"[Horn] had a couple strong transitions and did a good job getting the ball down the floor while we were still trailing on defense," said LaGwenna Morrow, East head coach. "They also had a couple big 3-point shots and nothing was working for us on offense."
The Lady Panthers mustered just three field goals in the second quarter, a figure that dipped down to two buckets in the third as Horn's defense dictated the tempo in the second half.
"Defense is our big key," Brewer said. "That's something we feel we can bring every night because that's effort. It should be there every night and that's something our kids have bought into."
Horn junior Lauren Bradshaw anchored that defensive surge behind seven blocks and two steals to complement her 10 points and nine boards.
It was enough to keep East out of the paint. Trailing by eight to 10 points for much of the third frame, the Lady Panthers' reliance on the 3-pointer came up short -- and at times missed the rim altogether -- while Horn's transition game and a timely 3-pointer by junior Dawn Nwoko, who scored 13, created a 41-28 cushion by quarter's end.
The margin never got any smaller for East, whose field goal count stayed at just two over the final eight minutes.
That wasn't the case early as the Lady Panthers battled Horn throughout a nip-and-tuck first quarter that saw East lead for much of the frame.
Senior Jasmine Caston, whose season finale featured 12 points and four rebounds, opened fire with a 3-pointer to start the game while seniors Jordan Welch and Kennedy Munson commandeered an early rebounding edge.
"Our girls warmed up good and played pretty good defense to start," Morrow said. "They were tenacious in getting defensive rebounds and whether it was fatigue or [Horn's] transition game, I think we lost perspective of that as the game went on."
Welch managed 10 points and eight rebounds in the loss while Munson snagged six boards, but Horn got the better of the exchange behind four straight points to close the quarter. Senior Tyler Hamilton dished out one of her four first-quarter assists to hit Nwoko for a layup and 10-9 lead.
The Lady Panthers hung as close as 19-17 before Horn nudged East into its rearview mirror for the team's first trip to the regional quarterfinals since 2010. The Lady Jaguars will next face Plano West at 7 p.m. Tuesday from the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.
East's roller coaster year ends at 16-20, winning five of its last eight to finish.
"I congratulated and thanked our seniors for being a part of this team," Morrow said. "They've done so much and this was a big inspiration for our underclassmen, none of whom had varsity experience going into this season.
"They've all got a taste of it now and we won't be young going into next season."
For continued news and coverage on the local sports scene, follow @MWelchSCN on Twitter.