Time of possession isn't something that's normally associated with the game of basketball. But Monday night, it was the key to an important victory for the Lebanon girls' basketball team that could go a long way in determining its postseason fate.
The Cedars, behind a possession-style offense and a pair of 11-0 runs, knocked off Hempfield, 44-35, in a Section One-Two crossover game at Lebanon High.
At one point in the fourth quarter with the Black Knights trying feverishly to mount a comeback, Lebanon had possession of the ball for nearly two minutes. And the Cedars weren't just standing and holding the ball - as sometimes is the case when a team is trying to hold for the last shot in a quarter - they were grabbing offensive rebounds and knocking the ball out of bounds off of the Knights to keep possession.
The Cedars led 40-27 when Madison Rakow missed her second free-throw attempt with 4:29 to play. However, Lebanon kept the ball when it went out of bounds off a Knight player and the Cedars maintained it until there was 2:37 left. It was time that Hempfield needed to have the ball in its hand to mount a comeback and couldn't get it.
"We still need to learn that when we're up 10, 12 (points) with 3-4 minutes to go, we can take the air out of the ball and spread them out and still be aggressive to the rim," Lebanon head coach Ben Brewer said. "It's two minutes they can't score."
The victory gives the Cedars, now 14-4 overall and 9-3 in Section Two, a full two-game lead over second-place Cocalico, while the Knights slipped to 11-7 and 9-3 in Section One, which is one game behind Cedar Crest for second place. Hempfield hosts the Falcons on Tuesday night in a game that will go a long way toward who will claim the second spot in the section and gain the league playoff berth that goes with it.
"I preached all year long, if you win your section, you're going to have the ability to win the league," said Brewer of the importance of finishing first. "If you have the ability to win your section, you're going to be in good standings in the power rankings for districts. They kind of take care of each other."
Hempfield didn't trail in the first quarter but could only build leads of 4-0 (its largest) and 10-7. An Alicia Haitos (10 points) 3-pointer opened the second quarter and gave the Cedars their first lead at 12-11. Haley Eager's 3 put the Knights back in front at 14-12, but Lebanon scored the next 11 points of the game — including the final 10 of the second quarter — to build up a 23-14 lead early in the third quarter.
"We were a little sluggish," Hempfield coach Brian Rife said. "They certainly played very well.
"Give them all of the credit in the world. They outhustled us and outplayed us. I thought they were tougher than us. They spread us out and did a very good job offensively. They took advantage of our weaknesses."
Hempfield got to within 23-18 before Brittany Ulrich (game-high 13 points) and Lauren Chambers sandwiched 3-pointers around a Julianna Clark (team-high nine points) trey to make it a 29-21 game. The Cedar 3s came as the Knight defense was swarming and forcing tough shots, but Ulrich and Chambers were able to step up and drain the long-range jumpers.
Hempfield, behind 6-foot-1 junior Alecia Rohrer's six points in the quarter and handful of blocked shots, was able to storm back and closed to within 29-27 with two minutes to play in the third. That run made the earlier Ulrich and Chamber's 3-pointers loom that much larger.
But another 11-0 run followed for the Cedars, with Ulrich providing a steal and coast-to-coast layup early in the fourth to make it 35-27. It eventually ballooned to 40-27 after a Rakow (nine points) free throw that was followed by the Cedars keeping the ball for 1:52.
Hempfield's first points of the fourth quarter didn't come until there was only 1:55 to play, and the Knights didn't get closer than seven the rest of the way.
"It's a big win when we needed it," Brewer said. "This was a week — I told the girls in the locker room before — that if it goes the way we want it to go can end up being a week you'll remember for a long time.
"Every win now is big and every win has that playoff atmosphere. We're sitting ninth in the (district) power rankings. I wanna be top eight and play a game in this gym. I don't think there's ever been a home district game played in this gym because they didn't use to do that."
But first things are first. Lebanon has last-place and one-win Solanco on Tuesday night and then a showdown with Cocalico on Friday. A win against the Eagles later in the week could all-but clinch the section title.
"They took the banners down to do the renovations, we wanted to make them put them back up," Brewer said. "They put them back up, now we want to put some numbers to it."