MAHOMET — Playing 32 minutes is the mantra of high school basketball coaches throughout the country.
Mahomet-Seymour did just that on Monday. The Lady Bulldogs played some of their best defense of the season and seven different players scored at least four points, as M-S cruised to a 54-42 win over Mattoon.
"I thought our defense was sharp; I thought our effort was good," M-S coach Nathan Seal said. "For 32 minutes, that was the best we've played all year."
It was a back-and-forth affair for most of the first half, but the Bulldogs got out in transition and blitzed Mattoon with a 10-2 run to end the second quarter. It flipped an 18-16 deficit into a 26-20 halftime lead. Freshman Nichole Taylor gave M-S a huge spark and her offensive rebound and putback with 1.2 seconds remaining in the first half capped off the big spurt. Taylor finished with 10 points and seven rebounds and shot 4-of-5 from the field.
"The 10 points was huge, the seven rebounds was huge as well," Seal said. "(Taylor) played really well. She's an explosive player. As she gets more success at this level, she'll be more confident. She's been practicing well and I'm not shocked by it, but I'm certainly glad to see it."
Senior Kailyn Northrup scored nine of her game-high 13 points in the second half.
Taylor had a big block, and Northrup had a strong take to the rim. She took the contact and converted the layup. Her free throw gave M-S a 43-33 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Then, the Lady Bulldogs went 9-for-11 from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Mattoon shot just 14-of-25 from the free throw line, and couldn't get anything going offensively all night due to the Bulldogs' pressure defense. M-S played a lot of a 1-2-2 matchup zone which gave Mattoon fits.
"That's the best we played defensively," Seal said. "It starts with communication. It starts with being physical. I thought our close-outs were better and the things that we've been working on have started to pay dividends."
Taylor, Maddy Wade and Makayla Rosenbery all had two steals, but senior Abby Kyle led the way with three takeaways. Kyle also chipped in nine points and five rebounds. She was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line.
"She just brings the 'it' factor," Seal said. "She just plays so hard. You're not going to find a player who plays any harder or gives more effort than Abby. We need that. We need that grit that she brings. She brings the same thing to practice every day. Whether she's hitting her shots or not, she's going to give effort, she's going to play solid defense and she's going to get those hustle plays that are big."
The Bulldogs' second-straight victory was also impressive because senior Lakeida Nichols battled foul trouble all night long. Nichols played just 21 minutes, but still finished with six points, six assists and a team-high eight rebounds.
But seven points from Rosenbery, five points from Maddy Wade and four points from Ashley Wheeler also aided Northrup, Taylor and Kyle's big days.
"Not having Keida is not ideal because she does so much for us, but the other girls stepped up and that's what you want to see heading down the stretch," Seal said. "We've got a tough schedule in front of us and we're playing better."
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 10-12 overall, and Seal has seen the tide start to turn. The six-game losing streak is a thing of the past, and M-S appears to be on the right track with postseason play right around the corner.
"We were close, but it just wasn't clicking during those six games," Seal said. "We were close to winning several of those, but sometimes that's the way sports goes. The girls have continued to work hard and come together as a team. I think our last couple practices have been the most intense of the season and the last two games, that's kinda shown."
M-S 49, St. Thomas More 41. Northrup got red hot, and St. Thomas More had no answers for the Bulldogs' star senior. Northrup converted three triples and all four free throws to finish with 19 points, and the Bulldogs ended their six-game losing streak with a non-conference victory.
Nichols added a double-double (13 points, 11 rebounds) and she also added five assists, one steal and a block.
Kyle added 11 points, four rebounds and three steals.
Wade had four points and six boards, while Taylor added two points and five rebounds.
The Bulldogs will hit the road for six straight games.
On Saturday, M-S will travel to Lincoln for a 1:30 p.m. matinee. M-S will play at Urbana on Tuesday and at Charleston on Thursday. Both varsity games next week will get started at 7:30.