Second-Half Surge Propels Cards

WHEELING – Playing for the first time in 12 days, the Wheeling Jesuit University women’s basketball team took a little while to get started, but a 55-point explosion in the second half carried the Cardinals past visiting Salem International 77-61 Monday afternoon at the Alma Grace McDonough Center.

Coach Debbie Buff’s youth-dominated squad led 32-30 at halftime and went on a 17-4 run during the first eight minutes of the second half to take control.

”I wasn’t very happy at halftime because I didn’t think we were playing with a sense of urgency,” Buff said. ”We did a much better job with our defensive intensity in the second half. The steals and turnovers got us a lot of runouts for easy layups.”

Junior guard Taneka Lewis ignited the second-half spurt with a steal at midcourt and drive for an open layup to put the Cardinals in front 34-30. Two more turnovers by the Tigers resulted in a flash across the foul line for a runner that swished through the net by Breanna Butler and a conventional 3-point play turned in by the former Akron Hoban standout Lewis.

Jamie Sobczak then scored after still another Cardinals steal that extended the lead to 41-30 before Salem finally broke its second-half dry spell on Whitney McCargo’s stickback goal.

Monique Hill, off a well-executed give-and-go play, pulled Salem to within 41-34 but Wheeling Jesuit scored the next 10 points to break the game with open with 12 minutes to play.

Butler contributed the first five points, cashing two free throws and then draining a triple. Sobczak then hit the next five with a leaner off the window and a conventional 3-point play that put the hosts in front 51-34.

Salem International, falling to 1-13 on the season, never got closer than a dozen points the rest of the way.

Wheeling Jesuit had three players combine for 52 of its 77 points. However, their No. 2 average scorer on the season, Emily Robinson, did not dent the scoring column. Leading the way were Butler with 19 points, while Lewis and Sobczak continued 18 and 15, respectively.

Lewis’s floor game was also a key to the Cardinals’ success. She was charted with seven assists and four steals. Robinson and Butler had three steals each as WJU forced the visitors into 19 turnovers.

”Taneka Lewis was huge playing the point,” Buff said. ”What she provides the best for us is tempo. She pushes the ball up well and gets us a lot easier possessions. Emily got only three shots but the other girls stepped it up when we needed them.”

The first half was back-and-forth most of the way with the score deadlocked four times and the lead changing hands on five occasions. The Tigers’ biggest lead was at 18-15 just past the 10-minute mark when Inkera Patterson drained a triple from the right wing. Wheeling then went up 22-20 on a Butler trifecta. The score was tied for the final time at 22-22 after a My’Esha Williams layin. Lewis’ one-hander off the window then gave the Cardinals the lead for keeps.

Salem had just two double-figure scorers in Patterson and Shakinah Haggins with 13 and 11 points, respectively.

”They are a very athletic team despite their record,” Buff said. ”Salem has been in some close games especially in the first half like. I saw a lot of film on them and felt the biggest thing we had to do was keep them out of the middle of the floor and off the glass. We did a better job doing that in the second half,” she added.

Buff was pleased with her team’s stamina in their first game since Dec. 19.

”Coming off the break, we did a lot of conditioning the last couple of days and I think it really showed up,” she said. We had the legs to keep going in the second half and on our runouts, the girls were unselfish in making that extra pass and getting those layups.”

Buff sees Wheeling Jesuit’s 4-4 record at this time also a good sign for a team without a senior on the roster.

”We only won five games all last year and the girls are really working hard. We need to keep improving and have everybody click at the same time. Putting up a second half like we did today was a positive sign of our potential,” Buff said.