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O’FALLON – Point guard Que Love led the way with 14 points, while freshman forward Sydney Harris added 12 and Maddie Stephen had 10 as Edwardsville defeated O’Fallon 43-34 in a Southwestern Conference girls game Friday night at the Panther Dome.

It was definitely a game of two halves, as the Tigers were able to hit shots in the first half, and got a lot of good looks in the second and couldn’t score, but did hit some timely free throws down the stretch to get the win.

“It was like a story of two halves,” Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. “We hit stuff first half, they hit zilch, and then it switched, and we didn’t hit anything, and they did. But I was really proud of our effort. They got some easy baskets, we didn’t back down, and that was good to see, and we kept our composure and did just enough to win the game.”

The Tigers’ defense did a good job of keeping the key Panther players at bay, especially in the first half.

“First half, I thought they guarded really smart,” Blade said. “We guarded exactly how I wanted them to guard. It forced them into directions that they didn’t necessarily wanted to go, and shots that they didn’t necessarily want to take. But second half, we’re trying to let them dictate what they were going to do, and we have to do a better job for four quarters of that.”

The foul situation became a bit more tighter in the second half, with the Tigers isolating on center Amelia Bell.

“Possibly, possibly,” Blade said. “We isolated the big kid (Bell) a little bit more, and we didn’t get around, and we tried to bottle her up. She’s a little big longer and stronger than we are. So it goes back to how we guard. And we’ve got to guard smart.”

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There was also a stretch in the final quarter where the Tigers couldn’t hit their shots, which helped the Panthers come back to within four late. Blade felt that her team settled for shots instead of looking for the best available.

“”No, we were settling for shots,” Blade said. “I thought we were settling for jump shots and longer shots, and not working the ball to get the best shot that we could get. First half, they went in, and we had fresh legs. Second half, we were a little bit tired, and a little bit short on everything. So we just needed to be a little bit more patient. They were good shots, but they weren’t going in, so we have to work to get a little bit better.”

The Tigers jumped to an early lead before the Panthers came back to tie things up at 9-9 late in the opening term before Harris scored underneath shortly before the end of the quarter to give Edwardsville an 11-9 lead.

Edwardsville opened the second quarter on a 12-0 run, with Love hitting a long two to start the period, then combining with Stephen on back to back threes to up the Tiger lead to 19-9. Megan Silvey scored on a lay up, and Love went coast to coast on a steal and score to make it 23-9 before a Panther basket made it 23-11. Kayla Gordon’s free throws cut it to 23-13, and O’Fallon had a chance to cut the lead to single digits before the end of the half, but couldn’t get a shot off as the Tigers took the 23-13 lead at halftime.

The teams traded free throws to make it 27-15 at the start of the third before a three from Harris made it 30-15. Makayla Best got a friendly bounce off the rim on a three that cut the lead back to 30-18, and another three from Gordon cut the Tiger advantage to nine. Later in the period, another Harris three gave Edwardsville a 33-23 lead, and a pair of free throws from Jaylen Townsend upped the lead to 12. An Isabelle Akoro drive to the basket and free throws from Kyndall Foster cut the lead to 35-27 before a coast to coast drive by Love made it 37-27 for the Tigers at three quarter time.

Gordon’s put back basket at the start of the quarter made it 37-29, and that’s where the score stood for much of the first half of the period, as both teams made good defensive stops to keep the score where it was. Best then hit a three on the side to cut the Edwardsville lead to 37-32, then Morgan Hulme fouled out with 3:10 left. A Love free throw made it 38-32 before a Panther basket cut the lead to 38-34 with 2:27 remaining. That would be as close as O’Fallon would get, as Love went four-for-four from the line late, and Kylie Burg hit another free throw shortly before the buzzer as the Tigers went on to their 43-34 win.

Blade praised the Panthers for their effort, and thought it was a big conference win on the road.

“It’s a huge game, huge game for the conference,” Blade said. “They’re awfully good. “I would have picked them to be one of the top two, three teams in the conference coming in, and that hasn’t changed my mind in any way. Nick’s (Panther coach Knollhoff) done a great job with them, they shoot the ball. But it’s a good win for our kids, and to come in here on a night with the boys-girls (doubleheader). You know, you have a tendency sometimes to not know how the mentality’s going to be, but our kids stayed focused and did a really good job.”

The Tigers, who improve to 16-2 on the year, play at the St. Joseph’s Academy Shootout tomorrow afternoon at 4:30 p.m. against Cardinal Ritter Catholic of St. Louis, then travel to Collinsville on Tuesday night for another conference game. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m.Dan Brannan also contributed to this story.

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