CHAMPAIGN — It would have been a terrific game, two-on-two.
Judah Christian’s two double-figure scorers did an excellent job of keeping pace with Villa Grove’s two scoring leaders in Thursday’s nonconference girls’ basketball game.
Even five-on-five, it was a great game for a half.
The offensive flair of the opening half, however, took a different turn thereafter. Villa Grove kept its scoring exploits going but, thanks to a prompting from coach Dan Sappenfield, slowed down the Judah scoring production.
“I reminded them, we’re here to stop people, we can’t keep outscoring them,” Sappenfield said.
“Our older kids rose to that challenge.”
Thanks to a career-high 30 points from senior Lizzy Smith and 16 from junior Courtney Helm, the Blue Devils pulled away for a 69-47 triumph.
Though they were the only VG double-figure scorers, the Blue Devils had more overall punch than the Tribe. Kristina Lee had 28 points and Leslee Chambers had 15 for Judah, accounting for all but four of the home team’s points.
At halftime, when Villa Grove led 33-27, Lee and Chambers teamed up for every Judah point and 28 of the team’s 29 field goal attempts.
“We have five girls who can score,” Sappenfield said. “That’s a nice blessing.”
With Smith joined by two other seniors in the starting lineup, Kiela Martin and Katie Douglas, Sappenfield expected offense to be a strength.
“We have senior-laden experience, girls who have been time-tested, and we hoped to have the scorers that could put points on the board,” he said.
Junior Alix Ezell scored all seven of her points in the third quarter, and another junior, Kayla Dowler, came off the bench to score five points and was one of two Blue Devils with a three-pointer.
“Alix is our secret weapon,” Sappenfield said. “She has been under the radar.”
Smith is on everybody’s radar. She moved her career point total to 996, but Sappenfield pulled her before she could add to it.
“She’s four away from 1,000, and we were hoping she could do that at home on Monday in our conference opener (against 7-3 Cerro Gordo),” said Sappenfield, whose team is 7-4.
Lee scored 21 points in the first half, including three-pointers to end each of the first two periods. Her shot at the end of the first eight minutes was a one-handed attempt about 4 feet in front of the halfcourt line.
Her second-quarter trey came at 3.8 seconds before the buzzer and made her the subject of Sappenfield’s halftime discussion.
“Our focus was we can’t let one girl dictate the game like that,” he said. “We had to commit to the defensive end, and it’s getting better. The second half was a great team effort.”
Judah, which played the first of five games in five days, was short-handed. The team’s only senior starter, Alex Grady, was making a college visit.
For the fourth time in her last five games, Lee hit at least 27 points.
“She has really come alive,” Judah coach Chris Chambers said. “We thought she’d be better, from a year of starting varsity, but she has gone beyond our expectations. Her game has expanded all around. At times, she has taken the team on her shoulders.”
His junior daughter, Leslee, did her part, nailing two three-pointers and 7 of 8 free throws, giving her 41 points in her last two games.
Leslee Chambers’ eight rebounds were a team high but weren’t enough for the Tribe to keep pace with the Blue Devils on the glass.
“They pounded the boards,” Chris Chambers said. “When they missed and got rebounds consistently, I knew we were in trouble.”
Helm had a double-double for VG, capturing a game-high 14 rebounds (seven on the offensive end). Smith and Ezell each had nine rebounds, and Dowler collected eight.
Grady will return to the Judah lineup Friday for opening-round action of the school’s four-team Christmas Classic round-robin tournament. Judah plays Chrisman at 7:30, following the 6 p.m. Schlarman vs. Tri-County matchup.