PLANO - The importance of the third quarter, particularly its first few minutes, isn't lost on the Plano East girls basketball team.
In fact, head coach Derrick Richardson turned back the clock to his days as an assistant at Plano West to emphasize as much.
"We talk a lot about the first three minutes of the third quarter. Honestly, it's an Anthony Morgan thing that I've carried for years," Richardson said, citing the former West head boys basketball coach. "Games can be won or lost in that third quarter and you have to come out and set the tone. We talked about it at halftime up 10 about coming out and stretching that lead right now and not allowing them to make it a dogfight."
The Lady Panthers responded as such, erupting early into the third quarter to fuel a 55-31 victory over the visiting Lady Jaguars to remain unbeaten in District 6-6A play at 4-0. Flower Mound dipped to 2-2 as a result, outscored over the final two quarters 27-13 behind a hail of turnovers forced by an aggressive East defense.
Flower Mound found itself within nine points at 30-21 early in the third quarter following a 3-pointer by senior Alexis Adams before East opened the floodgates behind a 10-0 run for a 40-21 lead midway through frame. It was an energetic surge by the Lady Panthers, whose defense contributed to Flower Mound going more than six minutes without a basket.
Seniors Ada Anamekwe and Savannah Adjetey were the catalysts, combining for double-digit steals and forcing a flurry of takeaways during a stretch that saw Flower Mound go multiple minutes without being able to so much as get the ball past half court.
"I think it was a lack of confidence on our part, combined with their length and athleticism," said Sherika Nelson, Flower Mound head coach. "We weren't attacking anything. We were just trying to get the ball past half court. That's the difference -- you've got to attack presses, you don't just try and pass until it gets past half court. We just didn't play well. We weren't rebounding well and weren't attacking well."
Richardson noted that Anamekwe and Adjetey both missed time during an uneven showing by the state-ranked Lady Panthers during last week's appearance at the Mansfield Spring Creek Barbeque Invitational tournament. Their presences were felt on Tuesday -- both finished in double figures with Anamekwe pacing all scorers with 19 points and Adjetey chipping in 10. Senior Donavia Hall added 11 points and junior Idara Udo finished with 10.
"The tournament was ugly. We weren't at full strength or in sync at all," Richardson said. "It was ugly, but if that's going to happen, that was a good time for it to happen. It allowed us to hit the reset button, get back to the basics and start talking about taking care of the ball and shot selection."
HALF: Plano East 28, Flower Mound 18Lady Panthers get a boost to close the half on a late 3 by SMU commit Donavia Hall. East's Ada Anamekwe leads all scorers w/ 9 points, while Hailey Bingham has 5 for FM. Lady Jags have been impressive in transition despite 12 TOs that half. pic.twitter.com/Bm2gPoWLHk— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) January 5, 2022
It helped by drawing a stout Flower Mound squad to resume district play. The Lady Jaguars sport the rangiest defense in 6-6A and showcased as much, walling off the rim and turning away several early attempts inside by the Lady Panthers.
Flower Mound compounded matters by sagging off East around the perimeter, something the Lady Panthers cracked early on by converting three of their first four baskets of the game from beyond the arc. Hall got the ball rolling with the first of her three makes from deep, followed by rare 3s from Anamekwe and Udo to pace a 13-3 start.
"People look at us and they don't think that we're a great shooting team, and they're going to defend us in a way that forces us to make them respect it," Richardson said. "... I believe those were [Anamekwe and Udo's] first 3-point makes of the year. That might have been Idara's first attempt, too.
"It's something she has really developed at least since I've been here. She's really developed a mid-range shot and we've been working on extending it in practice. It's a matter of developing that confidence because I know she can shoot in drills. Hitting those early on were really big for us."
Although East got a tad trigger-happy from the outside as a result, Richardson had the team rein things in for a more patient approach on offense - something the team heeded by extending several possessions for more than a minute during Tuesday's game.
Meanwhile, Flower Mound withstood East's early long-range salvo and stayed within striking distance for much of the first half behind a series of quick-strike possessions. Be it operating in transition or by seldom breaking the Lady Panther press, the Lady Jaguars were able to tread water enough to pull within 23-18 with 90 seconds remaining in the first half after junior Madison Cox found senior Sarah Edmondson for a fast-break layup.
Nelson felt good about where her team was at initially before East countered with five unanswered points, capped by a 3-pointer from Hall just before the buzzer, to make it 28-18 at the break.
"I think mentality-wise if we make a few shots going into halftime to make it a three-point game versus a 10-point game, I think it changes a lot for us," Nelson said. "We just weren't as aggressive as we needed to be tonight."
Junior Abbie Boutilier led all Lady Jaguars with nine points in the loss, while Cox chipped in seven points and eight rebounds. Flower Mound came into Tuesday's matchup anxious to build off a milestone 64-28 victory over Richardson Pearce on Dec. 28 that marked the 300th win of Nelson's coaching career.
"It just means that I've surrounded myself with great people - great staff, great administration, great kids - and that I'm getting old. It's a great feeling, but it's more about the relationships that have come through the years. We've had great players and great staffs that helped get to 300."
The Lady Jaguars target No. 301 at 6:30 p.m. Friday when they host Plano West. East, meanwhile, ventures a few miles west for a 7 p.m. tipoff that same night against rival Plano.
End 3Q: Plano East 43, Flower Mound 23Another 3 just before the buzzer by the Lady Panthers, and this time it's Doniya Hall who cashes in from deep. Resounding quarter by East, which outscores FM 15-5. pic.twitter.com/AIMr0KK24E— Matt Welch (@MWelchSLM) January 5, 2022