BEDFORD — Jeffersonville was staring down an 0-2 weekend at halftime of Saturday night's game at Bedford North Lawrence, which also had the potential to cost the Red Devils a shot at the Hoosier Hills Conference title.
A focused — and intense — defensive effort in the second half was imperative in helping Jeff erase an 18-point second-half deficit to celebrate a 56-53 victory on Damon Bailey Court that snapped a five-game losing streak to the Stars. BNL had won 14 of the past 15 meetings between the teams.
Alexis Gibson converted the game-winning 3-point play with 59.9 seconds on the clock and Jeff forced tough 3-point attempts in BNL's final possessions to finish off the comeback.
"It's definitely exhilarating," Gibson said of her team's defense. "It increases your game and gives you power to score on the offensive end. We have been determined to come back from — not only that loss — but the years of losses to BNL."
Gibson and Jeff seniors Kelsie James, Kiersten Poor and Nan Garcia made clutch plays in the second half but two players in particular were a spark off the bench.
Laura Gillenwater checked in on a mission to be a spark in the Red Devils' man-to-man full-court pressure, coming up with one steal and helping force a 10-second violation.
"When our junior Laura came in, she really amped things up, just for the couple seconds she was in, she really amped things up. She got everybody to realize you can play hard and we can win this thing," said James, who also caused some turnovers with harassing defense.
Gillenwater was forced to leave the game and received attention from athletic training staff after what is believed to be an allergic reaction.
"Our defensive effort was greatly improved," Poor said. "We've wanted to win [against BNL] since our freshmen year. It's all in our heart. To do it for Laura, especially since we don't know what's going on with her. She had an allergic reaction."
While defense was crucial, Jeff's offensive play featured determined efforts and some stellar shooting. Jeff hit 7 for 15 from 3-point range in the second half.
Tatum McFarland hit a 3-pointer, the first of two third-quarter triples for the freshman, that started a 25-3 run for Jeff after falling behind 37-19 early in the third quarter.
Garcia had just two of those 25 points and went to the bench with four fouls with 1:12 to play in the third quarter. The Red Devils (6-1, 1-0) weren't phased.
Gibson drove the lane and hit two free throws on her team's next possession to get the Devils within 40-38 heading to the fourth quarter.
James set up Poor for a go-ahead 3-pointer to start the fourth. James added another 3 to put Jeff ahead 44-40.
Garcia returned to the floor, scoring for a 46-42 lead on a 3-point play opportunity. She missed her free throw and BNL center Madison Webb, a 6-foot-3 senior, took advantage of Garcia's foul trouble to score consecutive buckets and tie it at 46.
BNL freshman Karsyn Norman drilled a 3-pointer to cap a 9-2 run by the Stars that put them back ahead, 51-48, with 2:45 to go.
James drilled a 3 to tie it and give her 12 points. Then Garcia — who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds — hit a pair of tying free throws after another Webb bucket on the low block.
The final basket of the game was Gibson's go-ahead 3-point play.
"It's a big win for our program," said Jeff coach Mike Warren, whose team bounced back from Friday night's 65-60 loss at Silver Creek. "That's a heck of a team. They beat some good teams. [BNL coach] Jeff [Allen] runs a phenomenal program. We've had great games but they've had the upper-hand in the win column. Last night didn't define us, tonight's not gonna define us, but it is a big win for our program."
James, who didn't score in the loss to the Dragons, said that loss didn't affect the Red Devils' confidence.
"We thought we could come out here and beat them," she said. "We were supposed to be more amped up after our loss. But we came out a little flat and weren't hitting shots. After what I did at Silver Creek, it felt really good to knock down some shots. It was hard but we did it."
As for Jeff's sluggish first half, BNL (3-3, 0-1) held the Red Devils to 4-of-10 shooting. The Stars were able to grind out long possessions and convert in the post and Chloe McKnight hit three first-half 3-pointers.
"I hoped we'd come out with more urgency after last night. We got lulled into playing at their pace. If you let them do that, they will do it. They did a nice job on Nan and she hasn't done a good job of making an adjustment yet," Warren said.
McKnight was held scoreless in the second half. Poor limited her attempts and contested a desperation attempt at the buzzer.
"KP was phenomenal in the second half. Hats off to our defensive effort," said Warren, whose team hosts Jennings County at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night.