By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — Anna’s Avery Bensman took a potential upset right out of young Miami East’s hands — quite literally.
Trailing by only two late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings were in the process of setting up their offense, with two players doing a simple handoff along the sideline at midcourt. But Bensman stepped in, tearing the ball out of both their hands and taking it the other way for a pivotal layup, and though Miami East continued to fight to stay in the game, Bensman and the undefeated Rockets hit their free throws late to preserve a 54-48 victory Saturday at Miami East.
The Vikings (7-4) had fought all the way back from a 12-point third-quarter deficit to tie the score at 40-40 with 3:55 to play on a 3-pointer by Morgan Haney — the only shot either team hit from long range on the day. But Holly Boyd put home a pair of free throws after an offensive rebound, then Bensman swiped the ball and scored arguably the biggest basket in the game.
“That turnover when Bensman took the ball right from us at midcourt, it felt like the wind went right out of us after that,” Miami East coach Bruce Vanover said. “We had a chance to tie it up again, but instead it turned into a four-point game. We didn’t have that many turnovers in the game (15 to Anna’s 10), but we had a couple late that cost us. Still, I thought the girls played well and played hard, and it was a great, competitive game.”
In fact, Vanover pointed to the first quarter — where Anna held East to 3 for 16 shooting from the field and dominated the offensive glass on the other end, finishing the quarter on a seven-point run to take a 16-7 lead — as the truly costly part of the game.
“Every basketball game is about all four quarters, but the first one ended up being the difference today,” Vanover said. “We got beat 11-3 on the offensive boards in that quarter, and we just couldn’t put the ball in the hole early in the game. We got off to a slow start and got beat by nine points in that quarter, but then we lost the game by six. You can point to that stretch more than any other quarter.”
The Vikings went on a 9-1 run to start the second quarter, closing to within one at 17-16 after an Amber Kinnison layup. But Anna (9-0) scored the next eight straight to reclaim control before a Kyndall Hellyer layup on an assist by Haney at the buzzer made it 25-18 Rockets at the half.
Miami East got the lead down to five on the first possession of the third quarter, but the Rockets firmly took control from there. Claire Spicer scored six of her seven points in the quarter and the Anna defense forced five turnovers, capitalizing and building a lead as big as 12 at 35-23 with 2:56 left. Haney scored four straight points, though, and a layup by Bailey Miller made it a six-point game before Boyd grabbed an offensive rebound and put home two free throws right before the buzzer to make it 37-29 Anna going into the fourth.
After Bensman hit a pair of free throws to make it a 10-point game, the Vikings rallied once again. Hellyer found Haley Howard inside for her first basket of the day, then Howard scored on back-to-back possessions to cut the lead to 40-35. Haney drove in for a score to make it a one-possession game, then she canned a 3 to tie the score with 3:55 to force an Anna timeout.
Boyd and Bensman came up big on back-to-back possessions to give Anna a 44-40 lead, then Hellyer hit a pair of free throws to cut it to two. Bensman then found Sarah Bettinger open on a back-door play to make it a four-point game again, and Bensman was perfect from the free throw line from there, going 6 for 6 and adding another steal-and-layup to keep the Rockets in front despite three-point plays from both Hellyer and Amber Kinnison.
Bensman finished with a game-high 23 points and eight rebounds, going 11 for 12 from the free throw line in the game and scoring 12 of those points in the fourth quarter alone. Spicer added seven points and four rebounds, Nicole Barhorst had seven points, Boyd had six points and five rebounds, Bettinger finished with six points and Macey Huelskamp had five points and six rebounds.
As a team, Anna was 22 for 26 from the free throw line, while Miami East was 9 for 13. The Vikings also closed the gap on the boards, but the Rockets still won that battle 36-33.
Haney led the Vikings with 18 points and two assists, while Hellyer scored seven points and added 11 rebounds and four assists — both game-high totals. Amber Kinnison also added seven points and five rebounds off the bench, Howard had six points and six rebounds, Megan Kinnison scored five points, Megan Thompson added three points and Miller had two points and three assists.
“Anna is a scrappy team, and they’re where they are for a reason,” Vanover said. “But I don’t think we’re that far off. We played well today. We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole early.”
Miami East is off for the rest of the 2015 calendar year, hosting Miami County rival Tippecanoe on Jan. 2.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.