With the postseason race in District 9-6A heating up, the Plano East girls basketball team very well may have punched its ticket to the playoffs Friday night.
The Lady Panthers hosted Prosper in a pivotal district contest in which the Lady Eagles desperately needed a win to hold a tie with East at 3-5 for fourth place.
East had other plans and outscored Prosper, 33-17, in the second half to hang on for a crucial 49-39 victory and moved two games ahead of the Lady Eagles in the standings with four left to go.
“This was huge and was like a playoff win for us,” said Jessica Linson, East head coach. “I came in and told them pretty much that if we win we’re in.”
Early in the third quarter, it seemed as if Prosper had cracked the code to defeating the Lady Panthers and held a commanding 27-20 lead
following a 3-pointer from senior Maddie Cleary.
Little did the Lady Eagles know that East would then close out the quarter on a 10-2 run, which included six points from sophomore Donavia Hall, including a floater at the buzzer to give her squad its first lead since the opening quarter at 30-29.
Prosper would not regain the lead from that point forward, as the Lady Panthers utilized suffocating defense to force a whopping 28 turnovers and held the sharpshooting Cleary, a North Texas signee, to just nine points on 11 attempts from the field.
“I told them that we could just wear them down,” Linson said. “The first game against them was kind of like this, but we wanted to make them scramble. They want to get comfortable, so if you make them scramble they’re going to get uncomfortable in their offense.
“You also have to be physical with [Cleary]. She has to guard one of our bigs down here, so now she’s not resting on the defensive end.”
Although East hit just one shot from beyond the arc to Prosper’s six, the Lady Panthers’ size in the paint with freshman Taylor Haggan and sophomores Sarah Watkins and Ada Anamekwe proved to be too much for Prosper to handle down low.
In fact, Prosper’s lone field goal in the fourth quarter came on a Cleary triple, as the Lady Eagles had no answer for East’s paint presence down the stretch.
“We just turned it up on defense,” Linson said. “That has been our bread and butter and we had settled down finally in the second half.”
The first half of play was a different story with Prosper junior guard Chandler Browning pouring in 12 of her team-high 18 points in a variety of fashions, including a trio of makes from downtown.
Browning’s third shot from deep came late in the second stanza to give the Lady Eagles their largest advantage of the night at 22-14, but that did not last with the Lady Panthers chipping away soon after.
East now looks to carry this momentum into Tuesday when it hits the road to take on Allen, while Prosper faces a must-win game against McKinney Boyd.