LEAVENWORTH — After his players gave up too many open shots to Leavenworth in the first half Thursday, Lawrence High girls basketball coach Jeff Dickson asked if they wanted to switch to a zone defense at halftime.
Dickson said the response from players was, “We’ve got it figured out. We just have to do a better job of talking.”
Erasing an extremely slow start, the Lions didn’t allow a field goal in the final four minutes against the second-ranked team in Class 5A. That was just enough time to rally for a 43-41 victory at Leavenworth, the program’s first victory against the Pioneers since 2012.
The Lions (5-0, 2-0 in Sunflower League), ranked No. 2 in Class 6A, were held to only five points in the first 11 minutes, missing 14 of their first 16 shots. They committed a total of 18 turnovers. Yet they still had an opportunity to celebrate heading into winter break.
“Definitely a lot more communication, trusting our defense, asking for help,” Lawrence junior Chisom Ajekwu said of the second half.
Lawrence took its first lead when the 6-foot-3 Ajekwu scored on a post move in the paint with under 30 seconds left via a pass from senior wing E’lease Stafford. Senior Talima Harjo stole the ensuing inbounds pass. It was the Lions' first lead of the night.
After Stafford and Leavenworth guard Alyche Brown traded free throws, the Pioneers (4-2, 1-1) had the ball under the opposite basket with 3.5 seconds remaining. Alexis Cole attempted a potential game-tying shot in front of Ajekwu at the buzzer, but it bounced off the side of the rim.
Dickson let out a yell on the sideline as Lawrence players ran off the bench to celebrate with their teammates.
“Over the years we haven’t been able to beat a good-ranked 5A team that always goes to state,” said Stafford, who recorded 14 points, nine rebounds and four steals. “It felt great to beat them senior year.”
In the fourth quarter, the Lions did their best to feed the ball to Ajekwu, who could use her height and strength to score in the paint. Ajekwu scored eight points in the final quarter, including back-to-back layups with under two minutes left.
The Pioneers tried to double team Ajekwu on the decisive possessions after 6-foot center Mckenzie Brown (five points, 10 rebounds) fouled out with three minutes left.
“In my mind I was like, ‘We’re not going to lose this game. We need to win this game. We didn’t come this far to lose over here,’” said Ajekwu, who had 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks. “I think once we got that mentality, we just took it to the court in the second half.”
The Lions trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, but they closed on a 7-2 run in the final 2:07 of the first half, which included three points by senior Asia Goodwin.
In the third quarter, Lawrence closed its deficit to four points with more consistency on both sides of the ball.
“What got me motivated was just to give it for my teammates,” Stafford said. “I didn’t want to let them down. I know they don’t want to let me down. Just going out there, taking charge and being more of a leader.”
Hannah Stewart 1-6 2-2 4, Talima Harjo 0-5 1-2 1, Tyrin Cosey 0-4 1-2 1, E’lease Stafford 4-16 6-9 14, Chisom Ajekwu 7-11 2-6 16, Asia Goodwin 2-5 1-2 5, Sammy Williams 1-3 0-0 2, Leslie Ostronic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-50 13-23 43.
Alisha Jones 1-5 0-0 2, Alexis Cole 4-7 0-2 8, Alyche Brown 2-11 4-10 8, Cierra Robinson 5-17 0-0 11, Mckenzie Brown 2-3 1-3 5, EJ Adams 1-4 0-2 2, Micquasha Riddle 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 17-48 5-17 41.
Lawrence 4 12 11 16 — 43
Leavenworth 9 15 7 10 — 41
Three-point goals: Lawrence 0-5; Leavenworth 2-12 (Robinson, Riddle). Fouled out: M. Brown. Turnovers: Lawrence 18, Leavenworth 15.