Miller girls basketball caoch James Braxton admitted he wasn’t pleased with his team’s ability to get the ball in the post during a Christmas tournament in Hampton Roads last month.
He spent the past few days of practice harping on the importance of the post to his team following the holiday break. That added emphasis showed up in spades Tuesday night during a 52-39 victory over Covenant at Hickory Gymnasium.
Alary Bell, who came in averaging 12.7 points per game on the season, poured in a game-high 23 points and utilized her height advantage inside to lead the Mavericks to a victory in the conference opener for both teams.
“It’s always nice to get back on the floor, especially if the last game at the tournament was a loss,” Braxton said. “We’ve had a couple of days of practice in, not a whole lot since the break, but we had enough to get to work on some things and we did a good job of capitalizing on some of the things we worked on.”
Bell made her presence felt early and often Tuesday as Miller (6-3, 1-0 conference) seized command early on. The 6-foot-1 forward made four of her first five shots to put the Mavericks up 11-3 less than three minutes into the game.
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“That was one of the things that we talked about was passing the ball to the post,” Braxton said. “We definitely felt like we had the size advantage, so we wanted to go inside. We were a little concerned about the matchup on the defensive end because they’re so small, and [Bell] would have to get out and guard, but she did a good job. She’s a real presence inside, so we have to make sure we use her.”
Covenant (8-2), which was coming off an impressive run to the championship game of the Daily Progress Holiday Hoops Classic, struggled to find its shooting touch all night long. The Eagles were just 1-of-13 from the field before Makayla Hargrove scored at the buzzer to trim the Miller lead to 16-7 after one quarter of play.
The Eagles continued to chip away at the lead in the second quarter. Reese Dalton scored four points in the stanza to help Covenant cut the lead to 22-11 with 3:48 left in the first half.
Miller closed the quarter strong behind Brooklin Ingram, who ended the half with a beautiful spin move in the lane to score off glass with one second left to give the Mavericks a 30-13 lead at intermission
The second half was more of the same as Miller continued to pound the ball inside. Larissa Cole converted an old fashioned three-point play with 2:45 left in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 38-20.
Covenant tried to make things interesting in the fourth quarter. Cece Corbey drained a 3-pointer and Hargrove added a pair of free-throws to cut the lead to 46-31 with 5:28 left to go.
That would be as close as the Eagles would get. Presleigh Braxton responded with a jumper and Bell added a three-point play of her own to seal the win.
Bell scored 16 of her 23 points in the first half to lead the Mavericks. Ingram tallied 13 more and Braxton finished with five to pace Miller.
“I was very happy with the win,” James Braxton said. “Even though we felt like we were up 20, it never seemed that way. They are a very scrappy group and we’re fortunate to come out of here with a win.”
Hargrove scored seven of her team-high 10 points in the second half to lead Covenant. Kerrigan Poindexter added eight points and Corbey added eight off the bench in the second half
Braxton was impressed with what he saw out of Covenant and believes it could be a three-way battle for the conference crown this season between the Eagles, the Mavericks and a much-improved Virginia Episcopal squad.
“We’ve been watching them,” Braxton said. “We knew they made a good run in the Daily Progress holiday tournament and we knew they would come at us hard. We know that they’re in our conference and we know that we’ll probably see them again. VES is another team that’s gotten better, so it should be three teams vying for the championship and I feel like we’re going to be in good shape. I feel like we’ve got some kids that have been around and a good mix of young kids, so we’ve got a really good balance.”