DURHAM – Coginchaug coach Chris Watson spoke about his defense in glowing terms after the Blue Devils held undefeated East Hampton to 26 points on Friday night.
If only his offense could have come up with two more buckets.
East Hampton was just as good on the defensive end, and senior guard Lindsay Orbann hit both ends of a one-and-one with 1.9 seconds remaining to lift the Bellringers to a 26-23 Shoreline Conference girls basketball victory.
“I was saying to the girls all day, ‘this is going to be a defensive struggle. It’s the kind of game you’re going to have to play to beat East Hampton,’ ” Watson said. “I am ecstatic with how we played defense. I would sign up for that (effort) every night.”
“If you told me before the game they would have only 23?” East Hampton coach Shaun Russell said. “I’ll sign up all day for that. We’ll find a way to get 24. Tonight, it was 26.”
Coginchaug senior guard Jessica King, an All-State player during the Blue Devils’ run to last year’s Class S championship, hit the side of the rim with a heave from near midcourt as the final buzzer sounded.
The Blue Devils lost their second straight and fell to 6-3 overall, 4-3 in the conference, after the teams’ only meeting of the regular season.
“Scoring only 23, it definitely leaves questions,” Watson said. “I knew we would not get our usual 50, 60 points. Did I think we’d play in the 40s? Probably.
“East Hampton did a great job on Jessie King. Our offense runs through her. They denied her the ball and it always makes things difficult for us when that happens.”
East Hampton allowed its first six opponents an average of 23.5 points. The Bellringers are tied atop the Shoreline with Cromwell (6-0, 6-2 overall), which beat Morgan 41-30 on Friday.
Orbann and sophomore forward Mya Field led East Hampton with eight points each.
East Hampton stretched its zone to prevent King and Coginchaug’s other shooters from having wide-open looks. On its end, Coginchaug’s zone did the same, and with Molly Shields and Jessica Berens inside, East Hampton found it hard to sustain possessions.
“I expected this game to be very difficult, very physical,” Russell said. “Offensively, I thought we would get a little more traction and be able to space the floor a little bit better. Coginchaug did a nice job moving from one side of the floor to the other with its (zone) defense.”
The Blue Devils’ offense continued to struggle in the second half, while the Bellringers strung together enough of a run – five points – to break out of a 14-14 halftime tie. Danielle Adams scored in the paint, Field made one of two free throws, and her lay-in capped the spurt.
King, who led Coginchaug with eight points, scored on the fast break a minute later for her team’s only basket of the quarter.
“We’ve been struggling a little bit on the offensive end,” said Watson, who lost his point guard, junior Raegan Moore, to an ACL injury in early December. “Our identity, our personnel, it’s a little bit of a work in progress.”
East Hampton led 21-18 entering the fourth quarter, but junior guard Kerry Turecek’s 3-pointer a minute in tied the game.
After East Hampton went ahead when Field made the first of two free throws with 3:52 left, Jessica Berens scored in the lane on an assist from Turecek to put the Blue Devils up 23-22 with 2:04 to go.
After an East Hampton miss, a Coginchaug turnover and the clock moving, Orbann found a seam in the lane and laid the ball in with her left hand to give Bellringers a 24-23 lead with 27.4 seconds remaining.
Watson called a succession of timeouts, the last with 9.2 seconds to go. Coginchaug inbounded the ball and got it to Turecek, who missed a runner. Taylor McDermott fouled Orbann to put her at the line, where she iced it, with 1.9 left.
“We’ve seen just about everything in our first six games in terms of man, zone, pressure,” Russell said. “I thought we were prepared. I thought we knew what we were coming into tonight.
“If you’re going to be good when it counts, you’ve got to be able to win on the nights you don’t play well,” Russell said. “I was just real proud of the way they stuck with it. We have so much basketball to play. Win or lose, this is the kind of close, important game that feels way more important than January 4.”