PORTLAND — In the minutes before the McAuley girls’ basketball players came out of their locker room Tuesday night to play Cheverus, Rebecca Knight told her teammates to “play like we’re down by 20.”

“That’s what motivates us to do better,” she explained.

The message was obviously received. The top-ranked Lions played with a defensive frenzy to rout the fourth-ranked Stags 58-39 before a packed gym at McAuley.

Knight, bound for the University of Maine next fall, scored 31 points but it was the Lions’ defense that impressed most.

McAuley broke a tie in the final minute of the first quarter, then forced eight turnovers in the second quarter to take a 15-point halftime lead.

“I’m really proud of the girls,” said Lions Coach Amy Vachon. “They came out tough and did everything we asked them to do.

“Once we settled down in the first quarter, we made Cheverus work for everything. And that’s key for us. When we play good defense, rebound and run, we’re tough.”

The score was 12-12 after a sweeping drive by Kylie Libby of Cheverus. Knight came down to hit a 5-footer on the left baseline, then Alexa Coulombe blocked a shot — one of the five she had in the game — that led to a basket by Coulombe with 12 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Coulombe then stepped in front of a pass at midcourt, dribbled twice and passed to Allie Clement, who scored at the buzzer to make it 18-12.

“She’s huge for us defensively,” said Knight of Coulombe, the junior who has verbally committed to attend Boston College. “I don’t know what we would do without her.”

McAuley then forced five turnovers on Cheverus’ first six possessions in the second quarter, pushing the lead to 10. Coulombe blocked shots on back-to-back Cheverus possessions in the final two minutes, leading to a 7-2 run to close the half and give McAuley a 33-18 lead.

“Defense is what wins games for us,” said Coulombe. “When we box out and get the high outlet and get running, that’s our game. This was a pretty big win for us. We needed to get back on track.”

With Knight scoring 10 points in the third quarter — as well as blocking two shots — McAuley extended the lead to 20 several times.

“What I liked about her 31 is that they came in the flow of the game,” said Vachon. “It’s been like that all year for Rebecca.”

It was a disappointing loss for the Stags, who lost by only three to McAuley earlier in the season. But the Lions took Cheverus’ top scorers — center Morgan Cahill and guard Alexandra Palazzi-Leahy — out of the game. The two, who normally combine for 26 points per game, had only eight, six by Cahill.

“(McAuley) came out with good pressure on the ball,” said Stags Coach Richie Ashley. “It was a physical game and I thought it was a well-officiated game. They did a good job physically and I’m not sure how we reacted to it.”

 

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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