MARSHALL - An undersized Marshall girls' basketball team went up against its biggest opponent of the season on Saturday and came away with a big win, defeating Sioux Falls O'Gorman (S.D.)?48-41 in the Borch's Sporting Goods Holiday Classic at Southwest Minnesota State University.
At one point in the second half the O'Gorman Lady Knights (4-3 overall) had 6-foot-2 sophomore center Jessica Mieras and 6-1 center Katie Messler on the court at the same time, but the much smaller Tigers, who have no 6-footers on their roster, were undaunted. Marshall held Mieras to 14 points, about three below her season average, and used a second-half spurt sparked by its pressure defense to create separation in what had been a back-and-forth game and held on for the win.
Mieras had scored 22 points in O'Gorman's last game, a 58-48 win over previously-unbeaten Harrisburg (S.D.), and Marshall head coach Dan Westby was concerned with how his team would handle her size. Five-foot-9 forward Sarah Andersen had the task of bodying up against Mieras in the post and held her own, keeping Mieras to just six points in the first half.
Marshall senior forward Sarah Andersen, center, rises for a shot over Sioux Fall O’Gorman’s Jessica Mieras during the second half of Saturday’s game in the Borch’s Sporting Goods Holiday Classic at the R/A Facility at Southwest Minnesota State University. Andersen drew a foul by Mieras on the shot.
"We put Sarah on her and tried to give her a lot of help with some other people," said Westby, whose eighth-ranked (Class AAA) Tigers move to 9-1 overall. "(Mieras) is just a tough matchup for us because she's just so big and so good around the basket. But I thought, overall, Sarah did a good job on her."
The first half was tight throughout and ended with the teams tied at 23. O'Gorman grabbed its largest lead of the half (five points) after Mieras hit a short face-up jumper with just over two minutes left, but Andersen scored on a putback and guard Kelsey Saugstad knocked down one of her four 3-pointers with 49 seconds left to knot the score going into the locker room. Saugstad finished with 14 points to lead Marshall in scoring.
It was difficult for the Marshall offense to get rolling in the first half, as Mieras used her large frame to impact shots around the basket and O'Gorman's zone defense slowed down the Tigers. Marshall guard Hannah Bennett, who scored 13 points in the game, found a soft spot in the zone at the free-throw line late in the first half and knocked down back-to-back jumpers to help get her team going.
Sioux Falls O'Gorman (41)
Allie Kneip 2 3-4 7, Dalee Steene 0 2-2 2, McKayla Hermenson 1 0-0 3, Peyton Bjorkmann 5 1-2 11, Paige Leafstedt 2 0-0 4, Jessica Mieras 7 0-0 14. Totals 17 6-8 41. 3-pointers 1. Rebounds (Mieras 12).
Sarah Buysse 2 2-2 8, Kelsey Saugstad 5 0-1 14, Kenzie Beekman 1 7-12 9, Hannah Bennett 4 4-4 13, Callie Graff 0 1-2 1, Sarah Andersen 1 1-2 3. Totals 13 15-23 48. 3-pointers 7 (Saugstad 4, Buysse 2) Rebounds 29 (Beekman 8, Andersen 8) Steals 3 Assists 10 Blocks 1.
Halftime Score: Marshall 23, Sioux Falls O'Gorman 23.
"Their zone really slowed us down, especially in the first half," Westby said. "We didn't attack it much and we started to slow things down, and we just can't play that way. We made that run in the second half when we started pushing the ball and started forcing them to get back on defense.
"We haven't seen very much zone this year and our kids didn't adjust well right away. We did a better job in the second half."
Marshall hadn't used its full-court pressure defense much in the first half, but employed it early on in the second half and it provided a big spark.
O'Gorman turned the ball over against the press and Bennett knocked down a 3, then Marshall guard Sarah Buysse got out on a fast break and dished an assist to Kenzie Beekman for a layup to put Marshall up 32-25 six minutes into the second half. A short time later, Beekman got a steal in the backcourt and was fouled, and O'Gorman head coach Kent Kolsrud had to call a timeout to try to stall the fired up Tiger team.
"They do a good job of mixing up their defenses, they do well with their full-court pressure and we had a spell there where we just didn't take care of the ball very well," Kolsrud said. "Also, we had a two- or three-minute spell there where we just didn't finish very well and that was the difference in the game."
The Tigers eventually built a 40-31 lead with 7:39 left after Saugstad drained a quick 3 after a Marshall steal as the result of its press. O'Gorman later cut the lead down to five after a score down low by Mieras and had a chance to trim the lead even further, but Marshall forced a pair of turnovers and Buysse and Bennett each knocked down two free throws to grow the lead to 44-35 with 2:21 left. O'Gorman never got closer than seven from there.
Beekman finished the game with nine points, going 7 of 12 from the foul line, and Buysse added eight points. Andersen and Beekman each finished with eight rebounds to lead Marshall on the boards.
The Lady Knights, who have just one senior on their roster, were led by Mieras' 14 points and 12 rebounds. Junior forward Peyton Bjorkman added 11 points, scoring mostly on drives to the basket.
Since losing its first game of the year to Mankato East on Dec. 22, Marshall has bounced back with solid wins against Park of Cottage Grove (a Class AAAA school) and now O'Gorman. They Tigers will host Windom Area on Thursday before facing another big school, Sioux Falls Lincoln, on the road on Friday.
"It is a tough stretch," Westby said. "We go on the road to Lincoln after playing Windom here at home, and Windom is putting up a lot of points, so that will be a tough ballgame as well. But it's just good for us to play against these teams because I think down the road we're going to see teams with some size, and we're not big, so we need to defend well. I think this was a pretty good effort by our kids."