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SMC Basketball: Belles open season with clutch win

Nick Boyle | Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Saint Mary’s started its season with a bang Tuesday night, taking out No. 25-ranked Wheaton in a tightly contested 66-63 victory.

“I don’t think you could ask for a better start,” Saint Mary’s coach Jenn Henley said. “I think both teams had a couple of first-game-jitters, but I’m very proud of the way the team played defensively, especially at the end of the game in a critical situation.”

Creating turnovers and grabbing offensive rebounds proved to be key for the Belles (1-0), who scored 27 points off turnovers while tallying 10 second-chance points. Senior forward Jessica Centa grabbed seven rebounds to go along with 14 points.

“Rebounding is something we work on a lot in practice,” senior forward Jessica Centa said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement still, but it’s a great way to start the season.”

Saint Mary’s started the game on a roll, jumping out to an eight point lead on junior guard Kayla Wolter’s fade-away jumper seven-and-a-half minutes into the game. Boosted by strong defensive play and 10 first half points from Centa, the Belles were able to maintain the lead throughout the half, taking a 34-31 advantage into the break.

The Belles began the second half strong, extending their lead to eight on consecutive jump shots by senior guard Patsy Mahoney (7 points) and senior guard Maggie Ronan (16 points, 9 rebounds), forcing an early Wheaton timeout.

Led by junior guard Brooke Olson (17 points), the Thunder (0-1) gradually fought their way back into the game, eventually taking a 49-47 lead on sophomore forward Maris Hovee’s layup with 10:30 remaining in the game.

Ronan answered promptly for the Belles, scoring six straight points to put the home team ahead for good.

Wheaton cut the lead to 63-61 on a three pointer with three minutes left in the second half, but Saint Mary’s answered with a free throw from Ronan and a layup from senior forward Kelley Murphy (15 points), restoring the home team’s lead to five.

 The Belles’ defense held strong, coming up with multiple stops down the final stretch, including a block of the Thunder’s last second three-point attempt.

“When our defense had to, when our backs were against the wall, they stepped up big to win us the game,” Henley said.

Saint Mary’s next takes the court Friday against Manchester in the Manchester Tip-Off Tournament.

Contact Nick Boyle at nboyle1@nd.edu