CROWN POINT — Crown Point girls basketball and Michigan City both entered Friday's Duneland Athletic Conference game with long winning streaks and undefeated records in conference play.
The Wolves had won nine consecutive games, while the undefeated Bulldogs reeled off 16 straight victories to start the season. And with the top spot in the DAC on the line, the highly anticipated matchup lived up to its billing and came down to each team's most notable player — Crown Point's Jessica Carrothers and Michigan City's Hannah Noveroske.
The Bulldogs were clinging onto a 44-43 lead with just 1:05 to play when Carrothers had the ball at the top of the key. She surveyed the Wolves' 2-3 zone, weaved her way through the lane and finished off her drive with a falling and-1 layup over Noveroske. She made the ensuing free throw, and Times No. 2 Crown Point was able to hold on for a 51-47 victory.
"I really just threw the shot up," Carrothers said. "But when it went in, everyone got really hyped, so I got happy that I made it."
Carrothers poured in a game-high 24 points and added team-highs of five rebounds and four steals, but the Bulldogs' leading scorer didn't produce with her normal level of efficiency. The freshman was 8 of 25 from the field — missing all five of her 3-point attempts — and committed three turnovers.
However, when the game was tight and Crown Point needed a bucket, Carrothers came through. She scored 13 of the Bulldogs' 15 points in the fourth quarter, including a perfect 7-of-7 performance at the free throw line.
"She is so fundamentally sound and consistent and confident," Crown Point coach Chris Seibert said. "It's not an outward confidence as much as it is the belief in herself and the time she's put in."
There were nine lead changes and six ties throughout the game, and although Carrothers shined in the contest's biggest moments, she didn't get there by herself.
Senior Ellie VanDeel scored four crucial points in the third quarter, and Seibert believes her mini-run helped Crown Point gain some steam going into the fourth quarter.
After drawing a foul, VanDeel made her first free throw and missed her second. But the Bulldogs corralled the rebound, kicked the ball out and swung it around the perimeter back to VanDeel. With a defender closing in on her, the senior set her feet and nailed a 3-pointer to give Crown Point a 36-31 lead.
VanDeel was thrilled to seize the moment and widen her team's lead, especially after trailing by as many as eight points in the quarter.
"I really think that pushed our momentum forward," VanDeel said. "It really got us pumped up and hyped and then we all started making our shots, so I think it was really big."
Noveroske led No. 5 Michigan City (14-4, 5-1) with 20 points, nine rebounds and several rejections. The senior — who has committed to Xavier — stands 6-foot-5 and anchored the Wolves' defense, which held the Bulldogs scoreless in the second quarter.
Seibert said his team was stagnant during that stretch and credited Noveroske for using her size to slow down Crown Point's offense. But at halftime, instead of implementing a huge adjustment, his message was simple: move the ball, stay aggressive and keep attacking.
"For the most part it was just going out and playing," Seibert said. "And shooting the ball with confidence and trying to get out in transition and run a little bit."
The Bulldogs' four-point win allows them to control their own destiny moving forward. Seibert said in his first three coaching campaigns Crown Point (17-0, 5-0) was out of contention for a conference championship at this point in the season, and Friday's gritty victory will give his team the confidence it needs to hopefully come away with some hardware down the line.
Carrothers shared the same aspirations as her coach, and added that she enjoyed silencing the visiting Michigan City fans by making all of her free throws in the Bulldogs' 17th straight win.
"I heard them over there, and I don't like how they don't want me to make the shot," Carrothers said. "I know they're the other team, but it makes me want to make the shot more."