The swarming defense of the Lady Celts led to good things for McNary girls basketball in Wednesday’s season opener at home against Summit, a 54-37 win for McNary.
As a team, McNary had 14 steals and 21 pass deflections. They attacked the ball early and often, refusing to allow Summit to build any early offensive rhythm, with no made field goal attempts in the first quarter for the Storm.
“That’s going to be a big part of our identity, it’s something that we can rely on even when the shots aren’t falling,” head coach Mike McShane said. “We’ve really put a focus on our conditioning and our defense and the idea we’re a smaller team so creating a little bit of chaos out there is a benefit for us and I thought we did a good job on the boards.”
They had 45 rebounds, 15 of those offensive, as well as a number of tie-ups including two in the first two minutes of the game.
But eight team fouls for McNary in the first quarter and a rule change for this season helped Summit stay in the game despite no makes from the field. This season, five team fouls results in the double bonus and two free throws. McNary gave Summit eight free throws on four non-shooting fouls, as well as a few trips on shot attempts. All eight of Summit’s first quarter points came from the free throw line.
“That’s going to be a big adjustment, especially with the pressure that we apply, being disciplined where we’re keeping our hands out, we’re moving our feet, we’re keeping our hands up,” McShane said.
The Lady Celts calmed themselves, and cut down on team fouls in each subsequent quarter.
Offensively, McNary found its own rhythm quickly. After scoring the first basket of the season McNary stayed out in front, leading the game for more than 30 of the 32 minutes, never trailing.
Much of that offense came from their five seniors. The starting lineup of upperclassmen accounted for 43 of the 54 points.
And senior leadership and experience like that could be huge for the Lady Celts, especially early in the season.
“The five seniors I thought did a really good job of setting the climate and the tone for the game and it was a great first game for them and it’s also a good opportunity for our underclassmen to watch them and then make the most of their minutes,” McShane said.
Ava Rubio led the team in points with 20 and was tied for a team-high nine rebounds. Rubio’s 12 points in the first half quickly outpaced her team high of 11.5 points per game last season.
While Rubio led the way for McNary offensively in the first half, it was Avery Buss in the second. Buss had 13 points in the second half, finishing the game with 17 along with a team-high seven steals and four assists.
“It was sure nice having them tonight because when we needed them the most, they showed up without a doubt,” McShane said.
And they were needed in the third quarter after the Lady Celts came out cold in the second half, allowing the Storm to cut an eight-point halftime deficit down to three. McNary went scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of the third quarter, but it was Rubio and Buss that got the McNary offense back on track and the lead up to double-digits.
When it came to the blame for the slow second half start, McShane looked at himself first.
“Some of that’s on me really in terms of play calling and getting us into a flow of an offense,” McShane said. “We have a new motion offense this year that we’re still picking up and a lot of that is timing. And timing isn’t something that you’re going to get overnight. It’s something that we’re going to have to continue to develop and we’re still working on our rotations.”
But even with the development they still need, McShane feels this team is in a better place than they were after one game last season — and that season opener last season saw McNary score a season-high 82 points.
Despite last season’s point total in the opener, McNary’s numbers Wednesday night were better than 2022-23 when they averaged just over 48.5 points per game while allowing 41.
“These girls are starting to take more ownership in their game and in this team and that’s magic,” McShane said. “When you can get the girls to buy in and communicate with each other what needs to happen out on the court, then the results speak for themselves.”
The Lady Celts will look to keep these types of results talking as they head to Mountainside for the Lady Mavs Winter Classic on Friday and Saturday. They face Mountainside on Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday’s opponent and time is to be decided.