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NTL GIRLS' BASKETBALL: TOWANDA PULLS AWAY FROM TROY IN 4TH, ONE WIN AWAY FROM DIVISION TITLE (2021-02-22)

BY CHRIS MANNING
Northern Tier Sports Report
TOWANDA — It was a frustrating night for Towanda, as they struggled to put a pesky Troy team away, but ultimately they prevailed 56-35 in NTL Division-I girls’ basketball action Monday.

Twice they looked to be pulling away, and twice the Trojans rallied to keep the deficit within arm’s reach. Finally, late in the third the Knights used a 7-0 run, followed by tight defense in the fourth, to put the game away.


“Sometimes it works that way,” said Towanda coach Rob Gentile. “They style wasn’t conducive to us. We’re physical, but we didn’t get away with a lot of stuff we typically do. It was called tighter than most games.”


Troy ended up taking 29 free throws on the night, but hit just 13 of them, including a 3-for-10 first quarter, which limited their ability to take a lead when they had a chance.


For Towanda, center Erin Barrett was in foul trouble most of the night, but they were able to get production else where. Off the bench Bella Hurley had eight points, three rebounds and four assists while center Gracie Schoonover had two points, six rebounds and four blocks - two of which that helped spur the third quarter rally for the Knights.


“That’s the beauty of our team,” explained Gentile. “It’s nice to have kids come off the bench that can step in and be just as effective.”


He also credited Troy for coming to play, and taking it to Towanda on their home court.


“They’re a much improved team,” said Gentile. “They’re coach has done a really good job, they work really hard, and they weren’t intimidated. They came to play, and they gave us a game.”


Paige Manchester led Towanda with 25 points, 16 of them in the second quarter, to go with six boards, seven assists and seven steals. Her length gave Troy fits on defense, while she was the only Knight to be able to consistently get inside the Trojan defense.


Porschia Bennett added 16 points, five boards, four assists and four steals as Amanda Horton had five points. Erin Barrett chipped in with four boards.


Rachel Kingsley had the big night for Troy, as she finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 boards to go with two steals. She was money down low with her bank shot, and gave Towanda fits on the offensive boards.


Hannah Zimmerman added seven points and three rebounds as Katie Lackey finished with six points and six rebounds. Sydney Taylor chipped in with five points.


At times Troy was able to pass ahead of the pressure on Towanda’s press, but at others they succumb to it, turning it over and giving the Knights lay-ups.


Defensively, though, the Trojans did a good job walling off the paint for long stretches of the game, and forcing Towanda into jump shots.


“I don’t think we used our post players as much as we usually do tonight,” said Gentile. “But we did start to attack the basket more in the second quarter, work inside out a little bit. When we do we’re pretty effective with it. It opens up some easier shots. I think we got away from that in the third quarter, and started to settle for shots.”


The Knights took a 10-6 lead over the first half of the opening quarter on the strength of the 3-ball as Bennett, Horton and Manchester went 3-for-3 from deep.


However, Troy countered with lay-ups - two by Kingsley, one by Lackey - as they were able to get behind the Knight press.


A Manchester lay-up extended the lead to 12-6, but the Knights were held scoreless the rest of the period as the Trojans went on a 5-0 run powered by Kingsley. She hit a lay-up, followed by a 2-for-4 run at the foul line to cut it to 12-10 with a minute to play.


Zimmerman cut it to 12-11 with a free throw just before the quarter break, while also getting Towanda into the bonus.


“That’s a young, very aggressive, very athletic team,” Gentile said about Troy. “That was the difference early on. They just got too many second possessions. We didn’t box out, and they matched us athletically, and got a lot of extra possessions, and a lot of them turned into fouls.”


At the start of the second quarter Towanda turned up the defense, then turned that defense into offense, getting three straight lay-ups, either off steals or defensive stops, to take an 18-11 lead a minute and a half in.


A Kingsley free throw stopped the bleeding, but a Manchester to Bennett bucket pushed Towanda to take a 20-12 lead.


The Trojans rallied back as Lackey hit a lay-up, followed by two freebies from Kingsley, to cut it to 20-16. Towanda responded with a 4-0 run of their own as Manchester and Bennett had back to back lay-ups.


Taylor then powered Troy to a 4-0 run, again. She hit a lay-up, then passed off to Kingsley for a bucket, making it 24-20 with three minutes to play in the half.


The Knights, though, finished the quarter strong, going on an 11-0 run in the final 2:22. After Bennett hit a free throw Manchester nailed a 3-pointer, followed by Bennett finding Manchester on a give-and-go.


Manchester then hit another 3-ball with 35 seconds to play, followed by nailing two freebies in the final 22 seconds to give her team a 35-20 advantage at the half.


The Knights scored a total of 23 points in the second quarter, all by Manchester and Bennett.


In the third the two teams traded some free throws in the first couple minutes as Towanda extended their lead to 37-21. 


That’s when Troy went on an 11-0 rally of their own, kicked off by a Lackey to Kingsley lay-up, plus the foul. She missed the free throw, but it spurred the Lady Trojans on, as Taylor followed with a jumper to cut it to 37-25.


Zimmerman went 1-for-2 from the line, followed by a Kingsley lay-up to cut it to a 9-point deficit. The Trojans got it down to seven off a Zimmerman jumper with a few minutes left to play in the quarter.


With all the momentum with Troy the Knights needed a spark, and got one from Schoonover. She had a big block inside, as Manchester scooped up the loose ball and drove it down court, where she hit Horton for the driving lay-up to end the Troy run.


Hurley then stepped up, as she hit back to back jumpers off assists from Manchester, the second one a 3-pointer, to extend the Towanda lead to 44-30. 


Zimmerman would hit a free throw just before the horn to cut it to 44-31, but Towanda had the momentum, now.


A Schoonover jumper put the Knights up 15 points to start the fourth, followed by a Taylor free throw to cut it to 46-32.


Bennett then had the play of the night as she snagged a pass above her head out of the air, took off down court, and laid it in, plus got the foul. She hit the free throw to make it a 49-32 advantage with 6:21.


Troy would get to the free throw lines eight times after that, hitting three of them, to cut it to 49-35 with 5:25 left to play, but they wouldn’t score again. In fact, they didn’t have a field goal in the fourth quarter as down the stretch Towanda went on a 7-0 run to pick up the win.


The win moves Towanda one game closer to repeating as the NTL Division-I Champions. If they win at Athens on Wednesday they clinch the title. If they lose they have two more games against NP-Mansfield left to play, though it might be tricky trying to fit it in with just a few days left in the regular season.


Either way, Towanda is firmly in control of the Large School.


Troy is battling to get out of the eighth spot in the District IV, Class AAA standings and have two games left to do it. They host Wellsboro Wednesday, then travel to NP-Mansfield Friday.


Considering they’re chasing the Hornets, who are seventh, a win on Wednesday would go a long ways toward moving them up the ladder.


CUTLINE: Towanda’s Paige Manchester goes to the basket as Troy’s Bailey Johnson (12) defends Monday…PHOTOS BY CHRIS MANNING.



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