Kasey Chambers and Diana Malanga don’t frown upon defense as if it’s some sort of job requirement at St. Rose, even though it really is.
The senior guards value it to a much higher degree, to the point they are almost salesmen, infectiously pitching its worth to impressionable teammates. They play it with a passion and an energy that demands you to look beyond the steals they reap and consider the influence they have on the opposition.
Assigned to lock up on two of St. John Vianney’s top offensive playmakers, Chambers and Malanga practically glued themselves to Kat Egan and Lyndsay Rowe, respectively. But, their adhesive man-to-man defense not only limited scoring, it denied the basic touches the Lady Lancers count on to run their meticulous sets and forced the ball into the hands of others not accustomed to such responsibilities.
The discomfort the duo applied during a second-quarter surge and a pivotal third quarter showing was an invaluable contribution that powered unbeaten St. Rose, No. 3 in the MSG Varsity New Jersey Top 15, to a 52-45 triumph over No. 12 St. John Vianney on Saturday in Holmdel.
Not to trivialize what Malanga and Chambers gave St. Rose, but it was what each removed from St. John Vianney that proved the difference.
“You always want to take away strengths,” St. Rose coach Joe Roman said. “And, a two big parts of their team are Kat Egan (12.5 ppg.) and Lyndsay Rowe (8.8 ppg.). Kacey locked down on Egan and Diana did a great job denying Rowe.”
After a 15-15 first quarter in which each team connected on 6 of 11 from the floor, St. Rose (14-0) settled into its halfcourt defense. The Belmar school induced St. John Vianney into seven turnovers that were parlayed into nine points during a 15-3 tear that gained it a 32-18 lead 2:47 shy of halftime.
Malanga accounted for two of the four steals St. Rose made within the burst while Sam Clark, Sarah Kurtz and Morgan Barry each canned a 3-pointer.
“Our game plan was to make Sam work inside,” St. John Vianney coach Dawn Karpell said of the defensive design on Clark. “We knew we were going to give some looks up and they made us pay. And, on our end, we just hit a drought and weren’t executing.”
Barry was the ringleader of a first-half perimeter barrage that saw St. Rose connect on 6 of 9 from 3-point range.
“Once we broke their press, we were all open for threes,” said Barry, who buried all three of hers prior to intermission and finished with 11 points. “Any of us can knock them down.”
“When Morgan is hitting them early, it’s a huge lift for us,” Malanga noted. “We know we can always rely on her to hit them.”
St. John Vianney (9-4) carved into the deficit with an 11-0 run that spanned the final 2:17 of the first half and ended with a Zoe Otterman layup that closed the gap to 32-29 to start the third quarter.
Malanga, who collected 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals, responded for St. Rose with a strip and layup that ended a 4:51 scoreless spell. Malanga then fed Maeve Smith for an inside finish and Sam Clark for a turnaround before hitting one of two from the line to push the lead back to 41-31 with :47.2 left in the third.
“Diana’s energy picks everyone else up,” Chambers said. “When she’s bringing it, we all bring it.”
As much as St. Rose’s defense was on for most of the second quarter, it was elevated during the third when it yielded just four points while forcing St. John Vianney into seven turnovers and hasty attempts on the few shots it allowed.
“I was a little disappointed we let them go on a 9-0 run to end the half,” Roman said. “We played really good defense for most of the second quarter and the third was even better.”
Angelica Esposito came up with a steal and fed Egan for a layup with 3:04 left to play that drew St. John Vianney (9-4) within 47-41 but Malanga and Chambers combined to convert 5 of 6 free throws over the last 1:39 to put the lead out of reach.
“I’m satisfied with how we competed,” Karpell said. “But, the bottom line is we just need to finish plays off. That’s the learning curve we’re on. If you miss box outs or a few transition points, the results will be there.”
Chambers, Kurtz and Clark provided nine points apiece with Clark’s bigger contribution coming on the glass. The 6-2 senior grabbed 10 rebounds, including five in the fourth quarter. St. John Vianney got nine points from Katie Beriont and Zoe Otterman.
In other action from Saturday…
Point Pleasant Boro 68, Howell 54: Kelly Hughes pumped in 28 points, cleared 15 rebounds and had nine steals to go with six assists to steer Point Pleasant Boro (10-4), which raced to a 48-21 halftime lead. Lindsey Havens scored all 12 of her points before intermission.
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @gregglerner