BY MATTHEW SPARKS
THE DAILY INDEPENDENT
RUSSELL Turning defense into offense has been Russell’s winning formula this season.
Add Madison Darnell into the equation and it was more than enough for the Lady Devils to pull away from Lewis County for a 64-42 victory on Wednesday night at Marvin Meredith Gym.
The senior tallied 10 straight points during a second- half surge in the third quarter. When the Lady Lions’ defense tried to adjust, she turned facilitator and dished out eight assists.
“We work on that every day in practice,” Russell coach Mandy Layne said. “People sliding over on her because that’s what they will do (in games). In the second half, she really got going. She looked for her teammates which keeps defenses more off-balanced.”
Darnell finished with a team-high 25 points. She found her way to the rim, but her trips in the final 16 minutes produced better results.
“Once she settled in and calmed down, I told her to pull out a little bit and then drive it at them,” Layne said. “Once I got her out, she did her thing. She makes me look good.”
Darnell also disrupted Lewis County’s night on the defensive end. She leads the charge up front with her size which is complemented by the speed around her.
“Their length causes problems,” Lewis County coach Jay Fite said. “Darnell on the front of that trap. We didn’t want to try and throw over the top of her. I had to remind a few players of that in the first half. She does a good job of using her hands. Then you have (Ty) Mitchell, who I think is the fastest player in the region, that plays passing lanes really well.”
Both teams did not open the contest well offensively. It took three minutes to post the game’s first points and the Lady Lions recorded just one field goal in the opening quarter.
Russell turned to its defensive pressure which resulted in buckets on the other end.
“We forced them into turnovers and we got some easy layups off of it,” Layne said. “Our relentless pressure kinda wore them down. We are deeper, and we got to play more players. A great team defensive effort again.”
“We need our defense to do that,” Layne added. “In the halfcourt, we are trying to get in a rhythm. We need our defense to help our offense. All night, we got good shots. I told my kids that we would start hitting those.”
The Lady Devils quick hands led to quick points and extra opportunities. Russell posted 21 more shot attempts than its opponent.
Layne said each player has bought into the team’s defensive philosophy. McKennah Morris supplied instant energy and intensity off the bench in the first half.
“McKennah had an outstanding game,” Layne said. “She is one of our best defenders.
She came in offensively and finished some layups like we need her to do. We were pleased with her performance.”
Gracie Yates tried to guide her team back with consecutive layups to begin the third quarter. Lewis County (7-9) closed the gap to 30-23 but would get no closer.
Jalyssa Cortez led the Lady Lions with 13 points. Allison Voyles and Yates each had 10.
“Nobody is dropping their head after this game,” Fite said. “We got beat by a team that is playing better than us right now. With leaders like Gracie, we will continue to improve and hopefully be playing well at the right time.”
Lakie Sanders hit double figures with 11 points for Russell (9-5). Mitchell added seven.