Tension builds in close games.
St. Anthony led Neoga by three points with 37 seconds to play on Thursday, when Lauren Wendt was called for a five-second violation.
Neoga got the ball under their own basket and gave it to Jillian Deters for a layup to make it 42-41. Kate Richards made 1-of-2 free throws on St. Anthony ensuing possession.
The game couldn’t have been tighter with the Indians dribbling down the court, trailing by two points.
Neoga head coach Kim Romack said they got a look they wanted with freshman Jaycie Roy under the basket, standing no more than two feet from the hoop.
Roy, who scored 10 points, hesitated and passed the ball to Madison Butler, who was off target on a jumper from inside the free throw line.
“It wasn’t that we told (Roy) she couldn’t shoot,” Romack said. “I don’t know if she didn’t see it or didn’t want to take it in that situation.”
Wendt put her teammates at ease, grabbing the rebound, making two free throws and St. Anthony went home with a 45-41 win.
“We got looks, the looks we wanted to get,” Romack said. “Some of them we didn’t take. Some we did and they didn’t fall.”
The five-second call with 37 seconds left was the second Neoga forced in the quarter. Tight defense against Kate Richards forced her to hold onto the ball for too long with 1:29 remaining.
Neoga got the ball back, but couldn’t convert; instead, Makayla Walsh scored her last two points of the game to push the Bulldogs’ lead to three points.
Walsh made a splash in her fourth game back from a torn ACL injury that kept her out the first half of the season. She scored a season-high 11 points, playing every minute of the final quarter.
St. Anthony scored 20 points in the fourth quarter to win by four and Walsh helped bring the Bulldogs back with two 3-pointers, after Neoga took a 35-28 lead on a Roy layup.
Her second 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 36-35 lead with 4:19 to go.
She didn’t score again until two late free throws, nor did she allow Neoga high scorer EC Thies to score either.
“I pretty much face-guarded her the whole time,” Walsh said. “My knees feel a little weak right now, but I’m good to go.”
Neoga trailed by three points for most of the final four minutes of the game, which made Walsh’s defense even more key against Thies, a 3-point threat.
Romack said the Indians tried setting screens to get Thies open for shots, but Walsh was too quick.
Thies finished with 13 points in the loss and put a target on her back after opening up the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer from at least one foot behind the line.
The win puts St. Anthony (13-4, 4-0) in the NTC driver’s seat with only two conference games remaining.
“We dug down deep,” St. Anthony head coach Bart Wiedman said. “We didn’t gamble. We just played smart, fundamental defense.”
The Bulldogs play Centralia in the Effingham Girls Basketball Tournament on Monday. Neoga (12-6, 1-1) hits the road tomorrow to play South Central.
Alex McNamee can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, email@example.com.
St. Anthony 6 16 3 20 45
Neoga 7 10 10 14 41
St. Anthony: Wendt 7, Nuxoll 8, Brown 2, Richards 14, Walsh 11, Niebrugge 3
Neoga: Butler 4, Thies 12, Erickson 2, Roy 10