CROWN POINT — E.C. Central junior forward Tai-yanna Jackson didn’t doubt herself when she found herself wide open at the top of the key of a tie ballgame with the clock winding down to 90 seconds — not even for a second.
At the time, Jackson was 0 for 3 from beyond the arc and just 4 of 12 from the field. Crown Point never trailed Jackson’s Cardinals and what E.C. Central coach Eric Kundich described as a “sectional-like crowd” was letting Jackson hear it.
None of that mattered.
Jackson caught a pass, hesitated for just a moment to line herself up properly and let the ball fly. The trey went in, giving Times No. 1 E.C. Central its first and only lead of the night while highlighting a 14-point swing in the fourth quarter of a 39-33 Cardinal win over the Bulldogs.
“One of them was going to fall,” Jackson said, laughing postgame. “That’s my shot. I couldn’t pass it up.”
Kundich is glad she didn’t.
“We woke up there in the second half,” he said. “Pretty much in the fourth quarter.”
There was something about practice Monday that Kurnich said he didn’t like.
Part of it may have been related to E.C. Central not being in school this week. That throws off a team’s rhythm.
Part if it might have been tired legs from games last Friday and Saturday. Another part may have been his team’s recent inability to win games in Crown Point.
Whatever it was, it plagued E.C. Central through the first 21 minutes or so of what seemed destined to be a loss to Crown Point. But as the fourth quarter wore on, Jackson and senior Nia Hurt took over to the tune of 19 combined fourth-quarter points.
“I felt like we were going to get off to a slow start,” he said. “I didn’t know it would be three quarters’ worth of slow.”
Crown Point controlled most of the tempo throughout the game behind a balanced attack led by senior Mya Scheidt’s 16 points. The Bulldogs keyed in on E.C. Central's posts and forced the Cardinals to settle for mid-range and long-distance jumpers that weren’t falling.
E.C. Central deployed a press sporadically throughout the game but committed to it in the late parts of the third quarter and through most of the fourth. As soon as the Cardinals found their groove with it, their length proved too much for the Bulldogs to handle. Soon enough, E.C. Central was forcing mistakes and turning defense into easy offense to chip away at Crown Point’s lead.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Crown Point coach Chris Seibert said. “I just thought we squandered away opportunities earlier in the third and second to go up 10 (points), to 15.”
But the Bulldogs never delivered a final blow, instead allowing the Cardinals to hang around. Soon enough, Hurt connected on back-to-back 3-pointers in crunch time to set the table for a comeback Jackson ultimately completed with her own make from beyond the arc.
Crown Point (2-3) gave itself a late look at a 3-pointer for the tie only to see the try fall short. After it did, E.C. Central (8-0) sealed the game at the line. Once the final buzzer sounded, Jackson allowed herself a reserved fist pump after scrapping back for the win.
It was a rare bit of emotion from the 6-foot-6 post, positive or negative. The win wasn’t pretty, but it was a win worth celebrating.
“We just didn’t want to lose. That’s our thing,” Jackson said. “We came out of here without a loss, and that’s what matters.”