PORTAGE — Without the services of Boston College commit Jenasae Bishop for the first month of the season, E.C. Central girls basketball coach Eric Kundich knew his team would have games like this.
Trailing by a point after three quarters, and despite committing close to 20 turnovers, Times No. 1 E.C. Central hung on to pick up a 49-43 win at Portage.
"Give Portage credit, that was the toughest opponent we've played so far this season." Kundich said. "We're still getting used to playing without Jenasae and we knew we were going to have some night like this. At the same time, it's also nice to have a night like this where you can identify weaknesses and work on improving those.
"I told the kids we need to start accepting our weaknesses and making them into our strengths, we want to build from here. The environment got to us a little bit (Tuesday) with them having the band here and a nice crowd for the the NMO Awareness Night. That was the kind of crowds I want our kids to get used to playing in front of. It rattled us some."
E.C. Central (5-0) took 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a pair of 3-pointers by Nia Hurt but Portage rallied off the next seven to tie, 9-9, after one quarter.
Trailing 19-14 with a few minutes before half, Portage got 3s from Skylar Flanagan and Tronisia Lacey and took a 20-19 lead into the break. Portage forced double-digit turnovers in the first half.
"We like to press and trap and it doesn't make much sense to trap them, so we threw a lot of pressing at them," Portage coach Marc Bruner said. "We wanted to clog up one half the floor and see if we can get them to throw the ball away. In the half-court, we wanted to fill up as much of the point as we can and not lose shooters, but unfortunately we lost Hurt a few times."
Hurt had 16 points with four 3s for E.C.
"Tai-yanna (Jackson) being big helps and her being down low opened up some more spots for me to shoot," Hurt said. "Zariah (Frierson) opened up some spots too with her driving. As a unit, we're trying to pick it up with Jenasae for the time being.
Hurt admitted the crowd played some effect on the sloppy play.
"We're not used to the loud crowds yet," she said. "We were used to it last year and you try not to think about it but the crowd definitely did have some effect on us. We needed this kind of game though. We thought we'd play a better game than this and I know coach will make us run for all those turnovers."
After being held to five points in the first half, the 6-foot-6 Jackson got cooking in the third quarter with 10 of the Cardinals 12 points. The Indians again would not go away and took a 32-31 lead into the fourth following a 3-pointer from Katie Clasen.
Jackson had 18 points and 10 rebounds.
"Things weren't working with her on the perimeter and she wasn't looking to go to the basket often enough, so we wanted to get her some easy buckets on the block," Kundich said. "It seemed like those gave her the opportunity to use both her inside and outside games. She's been working really hard on the perimeter game and we just want her to identify the best times to use each part of her game."
A three-point play and a bucket by Jackson put E.C. up 39-34 forcing a Portage timeout with 5:35 to go. Following a Portage score, a mini 6-0 run by the Cards gave them their biggest lead of the night at 45-36.
A pair of 3s by Skylar Flanagan in the final two minutes brought the Portage deficit to six and then five but it would get no closer. Flanagan led Portage with 14 points.
"She's really stepped up here lately," Bruner said of Flanagan. "It's good to see her having some success that she really works hard for. She's been a nice little spark and she's done a really good job of being that for us."
Despite the loss, Bruner was impressed with the way his team responded from a loss on Saturday.
"We got our brains beat in on the offensive glass against North Judson and they're nearly not as big as East Chicago," he said. "I thought our kids really battled on the glass. We challenged them to play physical and be tougher and they did a good job of that."
Before the game, Portage presented junior Payton Barragan with a honorary letter as the Indians hosted NMO Awareness Night. Barragan had to give up basketball as a result of neuromyilitis optica, a central nervous system disorder that caused her to lose sight in her left eye.
Portage and E.C. Central players wore the green shirts in warmups and the coaches wore them during the non-conference contest.