FAIRBURY — Mahomet-Seymour senior Maddy Wade had 15 points, six rebounds and two assists, but it wasn't enough as Eureka used an 11-0 spurt in the second half to edge the Bulldogs 57-50 in Game 1 of the Prairie Central Thanksgiving Tournament on Monday.
Eureka (1-0) took advantage of a slight cold spell for the Bulldogs (0-1) and took over a game that was very much in the balance through three quarters. At one point, Eureka led M-S 45-34 with just over four minutes left in the game.
"I just think we had a little lull," M-S head coach Nathan Seal said. "Lack of focus, and credit to them, they put the ball in the bucket."
But M-S wouldn't go quietly. Senior guard Kailyn Northrup drained two triples, while Wade and senior guard Lakeida Nichols converted buckets in transition to bring the Bulldogs within 53-50 with less than a minute remaining.
Three costly turnovers down the stretch ultimately felled the Bulldogs.
"I was proud with how we finished the game," Seal said. "They got the lead, and we cut it back down and gave ourselves a chance with under a minute. Unfortunately, it didn't go well for us."
M-S got its season off to a hot start and led 14-11 at the end of the first quarter behind inspired play off the bench from Nichols. She didn't get the start, but Nichols hopped off the pine to contribute four quick points in the first frame.
The senior finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. Nichols splashed her only three-point attempt. She also filled the box score with five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"I was trying to get the ball to the open player," Nichols said. "This year, I'm trying to take more of my own shots, so I'm looking to score a lot more this year."
Wade exploded for 10 first-half points, and Nichols found Wade on a backdoor cut early in the second quarter which gave the Bulldogs an 18-12 lead. But Eureka's 6-foot-1 junior forward Natalie Anderson splashed three triples in the first half which steadied the Hornets.
M-S headed to the break with a slight 25-23 lead.
"(Wade) is a very aggressive player," Seal said. "That's what we need from her, attacking the basket. I thought she did that really well, especially in the first half."
"(Nichols) adds a whole different element of speed and athleticism," Seal added. "She's somebody that can go for 20 any night. We're going to need that this year."
Eureka's senior guard Courtney Heffren gave the Bulldogs plenty of problems in the second half, as she scored 15 of Eureka's 22 fourth-quarter points.
Heffren was able to break down M-S' defense off the dribble, and once Heffren got past her defender, the help wasn't in sight, allowing for easy buckets at the rim.
"They spread us out, and we had no help," Seal said. "We were too stuck to our players and not playing help. I kept telling them, 'The steal will come off the pass, not stealing it from them.' "
Heffren nailed five free throws down the stretch to salt away the win for Eureka. Anderson finished with a game-high 21 points, but only five of those came after halftime. Heffren added 19.
"We'd like to rebound a little bit better, and defensively, we can play better," Seal said. "Overall, there's a lot more positives than negatives."
Northrup finished with a team-high three triples on the way to 15 points. Northrup added five rebounds and three assists.
M-S struggled with 17 turnovers, but three players finished with at least three assists.
"I think we have a lot of fight," Nichols said. "We share the ball very well. We're very unselfish. So, I think we were looking for each other a lot when it went down the stretch."
Nichols, Northrup and Wade combined for 43 of the Bulldogs' 50 points.
"We did a lot of what we thought we'd do," Seal said. "I thought we'd be a balanced team scoring-wise. I was telling the girls before the game, 'I have no idea who is going to be our leading scorer this year.' I saw that. Those three seniors did a great job of leading us tonight."
Makayla Rosenbery struggled offensively, finishing with two points on just 1-of-7 shooting, but the 5-foot-9 junior dished out three assists, pulled down five boards and swiped three steals. Rosenbery also had a massive block.
Abby Kyle and Ashley Wheeler each had two points. Ashley Campbell added one point and two rebounds. Sophomore Sammie Beyer had four rebounds.
"Hindsight is 20/20 and maybe we do things a little differently tonight," Seal said. "But we have to play better in the half-court defense. We didn't play well enough tonight. With 39 seconds left, that's the heart you've got to play with. We play that hard all year, we'll get some wins for sure."
M-S 53, East Peoria 17. The Lady Bulldogs got their first win of the season on Tuesday thanks to big-time defense. M-S limited East Peoria to just five field goals, and the Bulldogs swiped 15 steals.
M-S jumped out to a 36-11 halftime lead and cruised down the stretch. North-rup led the way offensively with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. She splashed a three and knocked down a couple of free throws.
Nichols was a monster defensively, racking up five steals. She finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rosenbery had seven points, and Campbell added five free throws and finished with seven points.
Wade chipped in six points, three steals and two rebounds. Abby Kyle had eight boards and four points. Beyer contributed three offensive rebounds.
M-S will play against Prairie Central at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the final game of the tourney.