Blackwell’s 22 points including a late 3-pointer gives East Kentwood big division victory
Kentwood – All Alona Blackwell had to do was keep her head in the game.
After a torrid start, the East Kentwood sophomore guard did little offensively until hitting the game’s biggest basket in the Falcons’ 55-51 win over Caledonia in an O-K Conference Red Division game on Friday.
Blackwell scored 17 points in the first 10 minutes, then went without a field goal for the next 21 minutes before hitting a huge 3-pointer with 1:40 left that wiped out a 51-50 deficit.
It was a game in which East Kentwood (16-1, 9-0) blew an early 26-11 lead, managed only six second half baskets and missed 8-of-17 second-half free throws, yet still gained a share of its first division title since 2012.
At least some of the credit had to go to Blackwell, whose clutch 3-pointer virtually saved the night for the Falcons, who upped their winning streak to 15 games following a Dec. 2 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Blackwell said despite her chilly second half shooting, she had no trouble with attempting the 3-pointer.
"You just stay in the game and don’t get down," she said. "My teammates encouraged me. We were down two or three, I had the shot, and I took it."
The offense is business-as-usual for Blackwell, who was a scoring threat a year ago but had to be sat down on occasion because of her defensive lapses. Coach Jimmy Carter said those days are gone as Blackwell has become a dangerous two-way player.
"She plays a lot (in the offseason) and that goes a long way," Carter said. "She goes to the gym a lot and it shows. She’s definitely improved her defense. There were times late in games last year that I had to take her out because of her defense."
The win means East Kentwood needs only to win one of its last three division games against West Ottawa, Hudsonville or Rockford to earn an outright title. A championship headed the team’s goals four months ago, said Carter, who doesn’t bat an eye on who he believes is the area’s best team.
"We didn’t think about second place (in the conference)," he said. "I’ve always thought we’re the best team in the area. The kids know I believe in them. They know I won’t hesitate to pull someone out who isn’t doing the job. I don’t try to satisfy everyone."
Carter said while East Kentwood might not possess the pure basketball talent of some Red Division teams, his teams must find alternative ways to win. He doesn’t, however, run an official summer program. Instead, Carter said he opens the gym and works with whichever of the players show up. He also encourages them to play AAU.
"We try to execute and run our system. And the kids play hard," he said. "The key to us winning is having different players step up and to play as a team. We missed a lot of free throws tonight, but they kept fighting. We didn’t give up."
Blackwell led East Kentwood with 22 points and junior center Corinne Jemison came off the bench to contribute 11 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Lauren VanderWal, Anna LoMonaco and Samantha Gehrls each scored 15 points for Caledonia (12-5, 5-4).
Caledonia coach Mike Glass said the loss was much like an eight-point loss to East Kentwood earlier in the season.
"The last three minutes of both games we struggled in execution and decision-making," he said. "We didn’t make them worry about us."