Leo's Keanna Gary admitted she doesn't like playing against the triangle-and-two defense. She doesn't like not being able to do what she wants offensively and finds it frustrating to go up against.
Thankfully for Gary, some of her teammates don't find it as infuriating as she does. Despite the Akron-recruit being effectively shutdown, Leo was able to push through the defensive battle against Garrett and its triangle-and-two defense to win back-to-back ACAC Tournament titles 36-33 Saturday afternoon at Memorial Coliseum.
After scoring 19 points in Leo's semifinal win, Gary was stifled by a defense that focused on eliminating her and teammate Taylor Seiss. The two were Leo's leading scorers coming into the game and Garrett constantly had defenders trailing them.
The result was Gary not scoring a field goal until there was 1:20 remaining and the two players combining for only 14 points.
“It's great seeing the younger players step-up,” Seiss said. “We knew coming into this game they were probably going to triangle-and-two us, but we just knew we have other players who could step-up and we knew could hit big shots, and we couldn't have done it without them.”
In a game where every shot and point was critical, Leo got plenty of them from Jenna Beer. The sophomore guard led the Lions with 12 points and was critical in a first half that saw Seiss and Gary only score five points.
Beer came up with two three-pointers and 10 of her points in the first half to help Leo stay in the game and trail by 1 at halftime.
“You have to credit Jenna Beer … that girl did a great job,” Garrett head coach Bob Lapadot said. “We left her when we triangle-and-two'ed em, and she made shots.”
Beer's play even had a large influence on the game plan for Leo in the fourth quarter. Clinging to a 4-point lead in the third quarter, Beer picked up her fourth foul with 1:11 left in it. This forced her to the bench, but Leo head coach Carrie Shappell got around this by playing a little keep-away.
“Since they were going to sit back, we thought the more clock we can burn without having to put her back in the game and not having to risk putting her back in the game, the better,” Shappell said.
The strategy worked as Leo ran nearly 2 minutes off the clock in two consecutive possessions and still held a f4-point lead when Beer came back into the game with 4:41 remaining.
Garrett kept the game close until the final possession, though. The Railroaders' Brandi Dawson, who led Garrett with 12 points, scored on an inbounds play to pull within one point with 1:49 remaining.
Leo's Gary would then get her only basket of the game with 1:20 left to give Leo a 3-point lead, before Garrett would bring it within 2 by making another free throw with 43.6 seconds left.
Then came time for the senior leadership to make its mark on the game. With 11.5 seconds left and a 2-point lead, Seiss headed to the free throw line with the chance to seal the game.
“We do pressure free throws in practice, and I was just thinking this is just like practice and I can just hit these; one-two-three dribbles, hit it and move on,” Seiss said.
And just like that, she hit both, and it gave Leo a two-possession lead that was insurmountable as the Lions won their second consecutive title. It also gives Leo three of the past four and 15 tournament titles in school history.
“I mean personally, for me, it's just really exciting,” the sophomore Beer said. “I'm one of the only players who has the chance to win it all four years, and it's really exciting for our team, especially our seniors (to win back-to-back).”
For Gary, the scoring struggles were partially alleviated by having 17 rebounds in the championship game. That she earned a littler personal hardware didn't hurt either. She was named the Hilliard Gates Tournament MVP as she scored 42 points, had 35 rebounds and six blocks in Leo's three games.
“It's something, like, I can't describe it feels so good, and I couldn't do it without any of my teammates,” Gary said. “Just being able to tangibly hold (the MVP plaque) in my hands, that's good, but the memories will stay with me longer.”