When Dominican guard Dilonna Johnson emerged from the Knights lockerroom in the first quarter after rolling her ankle during warm-ups Tuesday night, coach Kevin Schramka felt an instant flashback.
"I know it's going to sound incredibly old, but it was like Willis Reed (of the New York Knicks) coming out of the tunnel for that playoff game (in the 1970s)," he said. "If she and the trainer felt she could than she would. She came out to the bench and she said 'I'm ready' and I said 'Go in!'"
And all the D1 college recruit did was help the Knights break open a close game with 13 second-quarter points, including three, three-pointers, as Dominican held off stubborn village rival Bay, 51-41, in a high-level girls nonconference game.
"They taped it up and she kept going," said Schramka, "and it was something. "Defenders fall off of her (outside the three-point arc) and they let her get squared up.That's when she's at her best."
Johnson would finish with 18 points, one of three Knights in double figures, as they worked their way towards their 14th straight victory. They are the third-ranked team in state D3 polls and improved to 18-1 overall.
Meanwhile, the seventh-ranked in state D2 polls Bay, fell to 16-4 overall, having lost its second straight game. There is no relief on the horizon for the Blue Dukes as they prepare to host Nicolet (17-2) in a battle for the North Shore Conference lead on Friday.
"It's great preparation for that game," said Blue Duke coach Greg Capper. "The speed, the trapping, that's what it's going to be like. It's great stuff that way, because you can't simulate that speed in practice."
"That being said, when you're not concentrating and focused on taking care of the ball, you will be susceptible to what happened to us tonight. To that kind of pressure. We'd settle down for a couple of possessions and then we'd lose focus again."
But when you have guards as talented as the Knights have, it can sometimes be understandable to lose focus once in awhile. That happened at the start of the second quarter, when Dominican broke open a close game as Allazia Blockton (13 points) and Mishayla Jones sandwiched baskets around a Johnson three-pointer to make it 18-6 Knights with 6:26 left in the second quarter.
And for the remainder of the quarter, everytime the Blue Dukes made a small push, Johnson had an answer as she scored the last 10 of Dominican's points in the half. Dominican took a 30-17 lead into the break.
"It's no secret," said Schramka. "Our defense is our offense. ...Our plan was to pressure them regardless whether Dilonna was in or not. We weren't going to let them get comfortable in their half-court set."
And that remained the gameplan through much of the second half, as the lead reached 45-26 early in the fourth quarter.
But the Blue Dukes wouldn't go down without a fight as a 10-0 run late in the game, highlighted by five points from center Maya Jonas (11 points) and a three-pointer from guard Elisabeth Johnston (13), cut the margin to 49-41 with 1:10 remaining.
Dominican, which hit six of its first seven free throws in the second half, did not help itself by missing nine straight charity tosses down the stretch.
But when Deysha Smith-Jenkins (15) got a critical steal and lay-up with 47 seconds left to make it 51-41, Schramka could finally breathe a little easier.
"It was a very positive win for us," said Schramka, "Over a very good Bay team. We schedule this game in order to get ready for the (WIAA) tournament. Greg (Capper) does a great job over there. They're very well prepared everytime."
Capper just wished his squad had been a little more ready for this one.
"I give our kids credit, they did not quit, and they gave us something to talk about," he said. "I'd just like to see us play a full game with focus and in our style (against them) and then see how far we'd get."
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