Sandusky presses past TC

SANDUSKY – Richard Koonce had his Sandusky squad play the first half of Saturday’s game against Columbian in man-to-man defense.

He didn’t like the results.

The Tornadoes, behind three first-quarter 3s from Valesha Province, jumped out to a 12-5 lead. Even though Sandusky rallied and closed the gap, the Streaks still trailed the Tornadoes by two at half.

So Koonce had his defense switch to pressure. And that changed things.

Behind a 29-point effort from Azya Smith-Crager, Sandusky dominated the final two quarters, and pulled away for a 51-34 win in the first Northern Ohio League game for both teams.

“What changed was our defense had to be more intense,” the Sandusky coach said afterward. “We played man, and it wasn’t flustering them.”

The pressure did. After watching her team commit just seven turnovers in the first half, Columbian coach Katie Fazekas watched her team make 19 miscues after the break.

“They put the press on again, and once again we didn’t handle it,” Fazekas said after her team fell to 0-4.

Aside from keeping Columbian’s offense in check, the pressure defense provided Sandusky with another advantage. After struggling on offense, the TC turnovers gave Sandusky numerous transition opportunities, which the Streaks – notably Smith-Crager – took advantage of.

“She’s special,” Koonce said of the junior guard. “I know she goes through periods where the shots aren’t falling. We tell her to make sure she has her feet set… we never tell her to stop shooting.

“She’s shooting with more focus.”

Fazekas was impressed with Smith-Crager,

“She had a great game; she caught fire,” Fazekas said.

Columbian was led, as usual, by Province, who finished with all but 11 of her team’s points. She had 23 to go with a team-best nine rebounds.

“There’s too much pressure on her,” Fazekas said.

The TC coach said that while Province is shooting better than 50 percent from 3-point range, the team is shooting 21 percent from inside the arc.

That’s a problem.

“It’s not from a lack of effort,” Fazekas said.

Nauytica Grant had nine points for the Streaks, who improved to 1-1.

“All we can do is try to get better all the time,” Koonce said. “We believe in the girls.”