Points were hard to come by Wednesday night in the opening round of the Little Illini Conference Girls Basketball Tournament, but that suited the underdog just fine. Unfortunately for Oblong, they still came out on the short end of a 28-21 decision to Red Hill.
"We just couldn't get the baskets when we needed them," said OHS assistant coach Josh Pritchard, who served as interim coach in place of head coach Tim Johnson, who was serving a one-game suspension after being ejected from Monday night's loss at Palestine-Hutsonville. "If we could have scored a couple of baskets in the last few minutes, we would have had a chance to win."
Oblong sat in a 2-3 zone most of the game, daring Red Hill to shoot jump shots and they obliged. Fortunately, most of those shots did not go in, which allowed the 11th-seeded Lady Panthers to stay close to the sixth-seeded Lady Salukis.
"We know we have trouble scoring, so we wanted to eliminate their scoring chances and try to slow the game down," Pritchard said. "A low-scoring game is always better for us."
Kailyn Pinkston opened the scoring for the Lady Panthers with a shot in the lane for a 2-0 OHS lead 15 seconds in, but Red Hill's Tori Paulin answered with a three-pointer to put Red Hill in front 3-2 with 7:20 remaining. Ryann Chiddix countered 15 seconds later with a layup after a feed from Pinkston to put Oblong back on top 4-3. Two minutes went by without anyone scoring before Taylor Paulin made two free throws to put Red Hill ahead 5-4, then a free throw by Heather Perry at the 2:49 mark made the score 6-4 with 2:49 left.
Kira Meese finally put an end to Oblong's five-minute scoring drought with a basket from just inside the free throw line to tie the score at 6-6 with 2:05 to play.
However, that would be the first of many scoring droughts for the Lady Panthers on the night, with the next one starting immediately after Meese's hoop and it would not end until early in the third quarter.
After two free throws by Red Hill's Dakotah Moan with 00.1 seconds to go gave the Lady Salukis an 8-6 lead at the end of the first quarter, Red Hill outscored Oblong 9-0 in the second quarter to extend their advantage to 17-6 at halftime. During the second period, Oblong missed all five of their field goal attempts (four two-pointers and one three-pointer) and both free throw attempts, while committing five turnovers. Meanwhile, Red Hill made four of 10 shots from the floor (3-5 on twos and 1-5 on threes) and turned the ball over just once.
The drought would finally come to an end at 10 minutes and 25 seconds when Kelsie Harper hit a jumper from the free throw line at the 7:40 mark of the third quarter, which amazingly sparked a 12-0 OHS run. Chiddix followed with a layup 30 seconds later to make the score 17-10, Harper made a free throw at the 6:15 mark and Emily Lockhart added two more foul shots a minute later to close the gap to 17-13. Then, Chiddix put back an OHS miss with 2:55 remaining to pull the Lady Panthers within 17-15 and Harper finished the run with a three-pointer from the right wing with 36 seconds left to put Oblong back in front, 18-17.
However, Red Hill's Jamesha Western knocked down two free throws with 13.4 seconds left in the period for the Lady Salukis' only points in the quarter to put her team back on top, 19-18, heading into the fourth quarter.
Just when the Lady Panthers had climbed back into the game, they went on another cold streak. This last drought lasted just over five minutes and effectively ended Oblong's hopes of completing the comeback.
Red Hill ran off the first six points of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 25-18 with 3:46 remaining, before Meese hit a layup to close the gap to 25-20 with 3:30 to play. Harper added a free throw at the 1:51 mark to make the score 25-21, but the Lady Panthers could not get any closer. Red Hill was able to make 3-5 free throws in the final minute of the game to hold on for the win.
"Down 11 at the half and after Monday's game, the girls could have folded, but they stepped up and started playing in the third quarter," Pritchard said. "We wanted to start driving to the basket and stop standing. We got moving and were able to get the ball in the post and get open shots. We just couldn't do it when we needed to late."
Neither team shot the ball well from any spot on the floor, with both squads shooting less than 30 percent. Oblong connected on 8-31 shots from the floor (26 percent), including 7-27 from two-point range (26 percent) and 1-4 from three-point range (25 percent). Meanwhile, Red Hill made just 7-40 field goal attempts (18 percent), which included a 5-27 effort from inside the arc (19 percent) and 2-13 performance from long distance (15 percent). The big difference came at the free throw line, where Oblong was just 4-10 (40 percent), while Red Hill made 12-19 foul shots (63 percent).
Harper topped OHS with seven points, four rebounds, one steal and one assist, while Chiddix posted six points, eight rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot. Meese netted four points and two blocked shots, Lockhart totaled two points, nine rebounds and one assist and Pinkston contributed two points, seven rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot.
Tori Paulin led Red Hill with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, while Taylor Paulin posted eight points, four rebounds and two steals.
In other opening round action Wednesday, fifth-seeded Casey-Westfield rolled past 12th-seeded Edwards County, 50-14.
Oblong (4-14) will play the loser of Saturday's Marshall vs. Robinson quarterfinal in a consolation bracket game of the Little Illini Conference Tournament Monday at 7 p.m.