Long-range shots, tough defense spark St. Thomas More victory _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD KEMP St. Thomas More's Hailey Seymour shoots a 3-pointer over Iota's Whitney Landry last season. Landry is a two-year starter for the Bulldogs.

LAFAYETTE — Using some lethal shooting from beyond the 3-point arc and some tough and disciplined defense, the St. Thomas More girls basketball team beat Iota 54-39 for its eighth straight win.

The Cougars (14-3) jumped out to an early lead on the strength of a 19-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters. During that stretch, they connected on four shots from beyond the arc while holding Iota (9-8) to just four field goal attempts.

The St. Thomas More trap defense was wreaking havoc on the Bulldogs offense.

“Our plan was to press, and sometimes less is more,” St. Thomas More coach Stephen Strojny said. “We didn’t really trap the ball that hard after the first trap, we just let them make mistakes.”

The St. Thomas More lead swelled to 26-4 just minutes into the second quarter after 3-pointers by freshman Megan Abrams and sophomore Carly Sloane.

Iota coach Meghann Lejeune said her strategy coming in was to focus on Abrams, which she said she knew would leave her team vulnerable to 3-pointers from the other Cougars.

It backfired when sophomore reserve Hailey Seymour found a sweet spot from the corner.

“One of our biggest mottos is ‘Feed the monster,’ ” Strojny said. The monster is whoever is hot, and if they’re hot, we’ve got to get them the ball.”

Seymour connected on three 3-pointers in the first half to give her a game-high 11 points going into halftime.

“She does whatever you need her to do. If she was a baseball player, you’d call her a utility player,” Strojny said. “She can hit the 3, she can score from the block, she’s a good passer, a good ball handler.

“I’m really proud of what she’s doing right now because she’s taking a lot of pressure off our primary ball handlers, primary scorers.”

But Iota didn’t fold when it found itself in a big hole. The Bulldogs closed the first half on a 7-0 run, then kept whittling away at the St. Thomas More lead in the third quarter.

Midway through the third, they had finally trimmed the lead down to single digits when Cambri St. Andre had the wherewithal to sling the ball back to teammate Whitney Landry as she was careening out of bounds chasing a loose ball. Landry’s layup cut St. Thomas More’s lead to nine.

“The third quarter was the best quarter,” Lejeune said. “I told them in the locker room, ‘You play four quarters like that, you beat them by 15.’ ”

But the Cougars had an answer. With two seconds left in the third quarter, junior Bailey Hemphill made a nice cut on an inbounds play and dropped in a layup before the buzzer to push St. Thomas More’s lead back to 12.

“She’s just a heady player,” Strojny said. “That’s really not the read, that’s not the play we go over, but she made a nice read.”

St. Thomas More outscored Iota 11-8 in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Abrams led all scorers with 16 points. Strojny said she’s averaged nearly 20 points per game during the Cougars’ win streak, which is impressive, but Strojny was most impressed by his freshman’s knack for getting others involved.

“We hit a lot of 3s, and she played an integral part in that,” Strojny said. “When you have your point guard looking at getting everyone else better and then taking her shots when they’re open, that’s when you see a lot of strides.”

St. Thomas More will look to run its win streak to nine later this week on the road against Westgate.