PARK FOREST | Asked about her highlight of the day Monday, T.F. South senior guard Ninah Bertrand answered without hesitation, or guile.
"I had a good day at school," she said. "I finished all my pre-calculus homework before the game."
However difficult that assignment may have been, it likely wasn't nearly as vexing as the No. 4 Rebels' visit to Rich East. Though South (13-2) emerged with a 60-51 win, it wasn't a pretty effort, with loose-ball scrums as plentiful as made field goals.
But at least South won its share of those battles, as the Rockets (6-8) committed 23 turnovers. The Rebels also harassed East's Ashley Dennis — who came into the game averaging 22 points and 16 rebounds per game — into a quiet 11 points and 10 boards.
"Coach told us coming into the season, toughness was going to be a big factor," Bertrand said. "We continued to make it a factor tonight — toughness, mental and physical."
East was led by Jada Banks' 22 points. South got 12 points each from CeCe Keys and Ren'Cia Rolling, while Kameron Dickens had nine points and a team-high eight rebounds.
"We've had a lot of time off," South coach Steve Breshock said. "We've had just two practices since our Christmas break. … Still, we fought hard."
One example, Breschock noted, was the handcuffing of Dennis.
"We wanted to force her one step higher than where she wanted to be, wherever she wanted to be," he said.
Rich East grabbed an early 11-7 lead, but South closed the first quarter with a 9-1 burst and never trailed again. At the end of the half, Bertrand scored six points in an 8-2 South run to make the score 28-20 at intermission.
In the third, the Rebels again closed the quarter on a roll, scoring eight unanswered points to push their edge to 47-28. Keys scored six of her points in that run.
East stormed in the fourth quarter back behind Banks, who had 11 of the Rockets' 23 points in the quarter. East twice cut the South advantage to eight points.
"We're not deep," Breshock said. "We were a little tired at the end of the game."
But they are also 13-2, a mark Breshock hadn't seen one of his teams hit since he took over the South program in 2006-07.