FINDLAY — How quickly can a team of the future become a team of the present? The Notre Dame Eagles may have made that transition in less than 60 hours.
The Eagles followed their upset of fifth-ranked, previously unbeaten Perrysburg with a crucial Three Rivers Athletic Conference road victory Monday night, shaking off a first-half offensive funk to take a 44-39 girls basketball win.
Christiana “CJ” Jefferson, a 5-foot-4 sophomore point guard, scored 14 of her game-high 16 points after halftime, including nine during the Eagles’ crucial third-quarter surge.
Her work helped Notre Dame (14-3, 10-0 TRAC) take a two-game lead over second-place Findlay (13-4, 8-2) with four conference games remaining for each. The Eagles are 24-0 in TRAC play since the conference opened in the 2011-12 season.
“I knew my teammates were a little frustrated because of the fouls, so I knew I had to pick them up during that stretch and carry the team,” said Jefferson, one of three sophomore starters for the Eagles. “We got good shots off [in first half] but they weren’t falling. Their defense was sagging off and we’re not used to that, so we had to adjust.
“We just played harder. We knew we had to win this game, and we finished our layups in the second half. We just had to keep our composure down the stretch. We knew if we played defense, it would be our game.”
Tierra Floyd, a 6-0 sophomore guard-forward, added 11 points and a team-best nine rebounds for Notre Dame, which has won 14 of 15 games after an 0-2 start in an invitational at Reynoldsburg.
The Eagles’ only loss since then was a 52-44 setback against City League and state Division II power Rogers on Dec. 22.
Monday, Findlay used strong man-to-man defense to set the tone, holding the Eagles to 10 first-half-points on 4-of-20 shooting.
Findlay wasn’t much better offensively, hitting just five of its 16 shots in taking a 14-10 lead to the break.
After halftime, Notre Dame snapped out of its doldrums, using a 10-2 run to lead 20-16 after Jefferson followed a 3 with a layup with 4 minutes, 27 seconds left in the third.
Outscoring Findlay 20-10 in the pivotal third, the Eagles led 30-24 going to the fourth. They stretched it to 34-26 on a bucket by junior forward Jayda Worthy (six points) with 6:11 left.
But the Trojans refused to go away, rallying for nine straight points to led 35-34 after Nicole Muehl (nine points) followed her 3 with a layup with 3:25 to go.
Notre Dame answered with buckets from Floyd and Jefferson to go up 38-35, and Findlay never reclaimed the lead.
“For the first time all year we really executed down the stretch,” said coach Travis Galloway, whose Eagles graduated five key players from their D-I state semifinal team of 2012. “We knew going in this was going to be a tough stretch [Perrysburg and Findlay in three-day span] for us.
“After tonight, I think we did grow up. Down one on the road with less than three minutes to go, we had to execute, and we did. Our focus was better than what it had been when we were in these situations before.”
Each team shot 37 percent, with Notre Dame going 15 for 41 and Findlay 13 for 35. The Trojans won the boards 31-25, but committed 22 turnovers compared to 15 for the Eagles.
Abby Smarkel topped Findlay with 11 points, and Christina McQueen added eight points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.
“The difference was the third quarter,” Findlay coach Connie Lyon said. “There was that spell there that they got some easy shots on that back screen. That, and trying to run the press breaker and running cuts. Those were the two big [costly] things.”
Contact Steve Junga at: email@example.com, 419-724-6461 or on Twitter@JungaBlade.