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NTL GIRLS' BASKETBALL: THOMAN, O'CONNOR HELP NEB HOLD OFF WYALUSING (2023-01-21)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
WYALUSING — NEB coach Ben Beebe has been looking for his team to get battle tested as they get ready for the playoffs, but this week might have been a little much for him. After pulling out an overtime win at Athens on Wednesday, the Panthers held off a furious Wyalusing rally for the 52-49 win during NTL girls’ basketball action.

“I might have lied a little bit,” Beebe said with a smile. “I was thinking more of an 8-point win, not another (close) win, but a win’s a win.”


NEB led by as much as 18 points at the half, but saw Wyalusing come back and tie it up at 44-all with two minutes to play.


After some back-and-forth two key moments from NEB seniors lifted them to the win: a Kate O’Connor offensive rebound that led to two foul shots, both of which she made, and a defensive stop at the other end, with Kayleigh Thoman getting sent to the line and making 1-of-2, which proved to the difference in the game.


“The seniors really need to step up, they have been stepping up,” remarked Beebe. “They play well, they play hard all the time. It’s big, I need them, our team needs them.”


Kayleigh Thoman tied her career high with 26 points on the night despite sitting out much of the second half due to foul trouble. 


O’Connor added 13 points, including a perfect 3-for-3 from the foul line, with Leah Beebe adding five, Lani Thomas scoring four, while Alena Beebe and Emma Neuber had two points apiece.


They didn’t shoot well from deep with just two 3-balls, but they did go 10-for-15 from the line. 


“We finally made our free throws,” Beebe said. “We’ve been working on that - run sprints then free throws.”


The Panthers also passed the ball well, assisting on 13 of their 18 made baskets.


It was an emotional night for Wyalusing coach Nick Reynolds. He had just seen his team struggle on the road in their past two games, but also saw them put their hearts on the floor in the second half to try and upset the top ranked team in the district for Class AA.


“I want to give all the credit to coach Beebe and his girls,” said Reynolds. “The program that he has, watching them from junior high to JV to varsity, looking at what a program he has. The kids play hard, the kids shoot the ball, their fast, their quick. He really has a nice team, and I’m just so proud of my girls that we just went toe to toe with them.”


It’d been a rough week for the Rams, who had two tough road losses after long bus trips. He admitted they played flat against NP-Mansfield - “we really weren't playing like ourselves” - but he used that to his advantage coming into this contest.


“We’re getting ready for Northeast and I’m looking at the district standings and they’re at the top of the district, and I’m telling my girls that we’re the underdog. And the nice thing about an underdog is you don’t have anything to lose and you’ve got everything to prove.”


He wrote on their board ‘a dog never stops being hungry.’ 


“I kept telling them it’s all about the fight you have inside you,” said Reynolds. “You’ve just got to keep fighting, and however much you’re going to fight you just have to go a little bit more; and my girls, I’m so proud of everything they did.”


Layla Botts led the way with 22 points, and a near perfect 7-for-8 from the charity stripe. She also had six boards, and three steals.


Chloe Bennett added 12 points and six rebounds, as Rachel Wilson had seven points and 12 boards. 


Elana Jennings finished with six points to go with four boards and two steals, as Sydney Friedlander netted two points.


They were also strong from the line, going 14-for-18 on the night.


It was a free throw contest early as the first six points were free throws, with Wyalusing taking a 4-2 lead. 


Thoman then broke the seal, getting a lay-up off an Alena Beebe assist at the 5:10 mark to tie the game up.


Botts came back with a put back to make it 6-4 halfway through the quarter, but that’s when NEB got going offensively.


They finished the frame 9-2 run, scoring nine straight points behind five from Thoman.


Botts would get a jumper in the final minute to make it a 13-8 Panther lead at the break.


Thoman opened up the second quarter with a jumper, but Friedlander came back with a pair of free throws to keep it a 5-point lead.


In a minute span, though, NEB went on a 6-0 run off two baskets from Thoman, and one from Neuber to push their advantage to 21-10.


Botts ended the run with a driving lay-up, but Thoman found O’Connor for a basket. Bennett answered with a runner, but after that the Panthers went on another 9-0 run in the final 3:20 of the half to go up 32-14.


Thoman had all nine points, including a 3-ball, to give them the big cushion at the break.


Coming out of the half Wyalusing moved to a triangle-and-2 defense, and it seemed to stymie the Panthers a little bit, holding them to a game low 10 points in the final two quarters.


That was something Reynolds was waiting to spring on NEB in the second half.


“I’m saving it, it’s in my back pocket,” he said. “In the second half, that’s when we go to it. And, to be honest, I don’t think knew what defense we were when we started.”


Watching his team struggle to execute against it wasn’t what Beebe wanted to see, but it was good for them to get exposure to that type of defense.


“I just wish we would have ran the offense that we called through because that would have gave us a lot more open shots, and we would have been better off,” he said.


The Rams also found the range in the second half, hitting all five of their 3-pointers in the final two quarters.


As if right on cue, Jennings opened the half with a 3-ball to spark the Rams. Thomas answered with a jumper for NEB. The two teams continued to trade baskets until it was 36-19 two minutes into the third.


That’s when Wyalusing went on a run of their own, out scoring NEB 7-1. The highlight was a 3-point play from Botts, falling after making a 3-ball, but she missed the freebie. 


Still, the Rams cut it to 37-26 when O’Connor had a put back at the 2:30 mark to end the NEB drought.


Botts came back with two freebies, while Bennett hit a 3-pointer to make it 39-31.


O’Connor had the final say of the quarter, though, with a 3-point play off an Alena Beebe assist to push the Panther lead to 42-31 going into the final frame.


And, much like the boys’ game on Thursday night, the team that was down started the fourth on fire.


Wyalusing got back to back 3-balls on two straight possessions from Bennett and Jennings to cut the lead to 42-37.


Wilson would go 1-of-2 from the line on their next possession, followed by Bennett scoring two free throws a minute later to cut it to 42-40 at the 5:09 mark.


O’Connor would make it a two possession game again with a put back halfway through the quarter. After the two teams traded possessions Wilson added two more free throws to cut it to 44-42.


Northeast would turn it over on their next possession, with Bennett coming down and getting a driving lay-up to knot things up at 2:07.


The Panthers answered immediately as Leah Beebe found O’Connor for a basket to give them a 2-point lead again.


Wyalusing battled back, though, as Botts scored a driving lay-up to tie things up again.


Then, with 1:30 on the clock, a Leah Beebe 3-ball was nothing but net, pushing NEB’s lead to 49-46.


“They went to triangle-and-2 and I’ve never had to tell her to shoot the ball,” said coach Beebe. “Some of the other girls, they hesitate a little bit, but there’s no hesitation with her.”


After a Wyalusing timeout Botts once again asserted herself, scoring on a driving lay-up and getting the foul call. She made the freebie to tie things up again 49-49 with 1:09 left to play.


At the other end the Rams appeared to get a stop, but O’Connor once again was at the right place, right time, grabbing the offensive rebound and getting fouled on the put back. She made both freebies to put the Panthers up 51-49.


It would be the last lead they ever needed as they got a stop at the other end.


Thoman would get sent to the line, where she made 1-for-2 with 35.4 seconds to play. NEB rebounded the miss, but turned it over, giving Wyalusing one last chance.


The Rams called a timeout with 11.1 seconds left, but couldn’t get a clean look, as Bennett’s long 3-ball was just a little too deep.


Thoman rebounded the miss, and the Panthers held on for the win.


In the JV contest NEB won 47-9 behind 18 points from Becca VanDeMark and 14 out of Leah Beebe. Treanna Nickeson led Wyalusing with four points.


NEB (11-2) qualifies for districts with the win and tightens their hold on both the NTL Small School division and the District IV, Class AA standings. 


They have a tough test coming up, though, as they welcome league unbeaten Towanda on Wednesday, a game they’ve been waiting 13 months for.


Wyalusing falls to 5-9 on the year, and are currently one spot out of the playoffs. They host Troy Monday for the first of two meetings against the Trojans next week, while also traveling to Sayre.


Still, Reynolds hopes this is a preview of a first round district match-up next month.


“They just went toe-to-toe with the number one team in our districts, and I pray to God that we get enough wins to get in there and get them again.”


— — 


PHOTO CAPTION: NEB’s Leah Beebe makes a fourth quarter 3-pointer against Wyalusing…PHOTOS BY CHRIS MANNING



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