The gymnasium at London High School was as full as its been for any game all season long Friday.
Hundreds of fans packed the stands for a Division II Central District girls basketball tournament game between the No. 2 seed and host Red Raiders and Madison County rival Jonathan Alder, the eighth seed.
In a game that would see its share of lengthy runs on both sides, it was London which made more plays, made more shots and thus will be making plans to play in a D-II district semifinal thanks to a 46-39 victory.
The Raiders (20-3) got a go-ahead three-pointer from Emily Minner with just 2:20 to play in the fourth quarter that gave the home team the final boost it needed to put the game away. London had fallen behind, raced ahead, and then squandered the lead only to get a big shot from its best player.
With the score tied 35-35 London worked the ball around the perimeter against the Alder 2-3 zone. Unable to get a touch on the interior it looked as if the Raiders were going to have to settle for a sub-par shot. But the ball was swung to Minner who was a good three feet beyond the three-point arc but left relatively wide open.
She rose up and found nothing but the bottom of the net. The long shot changed the complexion of the second-round district tourney game. London wouldn’t surrender the lead again en route to its win and a spot in a D-II district semifinal.
The second-seeded Red Raiders will meet No. 6 Eastmoor Academy Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Franklin Heights High School. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The fact that the game’s biggest shot came from Minner should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed the play of the standout this season.
“It changed how we played offense and defense,” Alder coach Bob Wehner said. “That was a big shot right there. We knew if you let her sit out there she’ll drill them. Our girls were off 2-3 steps and if she get that she’s going to take it.
“She’s a very good shooter, she did the same thing to us in the first game (a 56-50 Alder win). It changed the game from that point on.”
“Emily gets the best defender every night,” London coach Kevin Long said. “She’s made that shot dozens of times. She probably shot 100 of that same shot the day before. Big players step up at big moments and she did that tonight.”
“We knew coming in what type of program Alder was and that this would be a slugfest,” Red Raiders coach Kevin Long said. “Our thing this week was to attack and keep attacking. When we went through our lulls tonight it was because we were going left and right and not attacking.”
The game was truly a game of runs. Alder raced out to a 9-2 lead midway through the first quarter. A McKenna Huff free throw with 4:12 remaining in the first quarter gave the visitors a solid start. But Alder wouldn’t score again until Huff hit a pair of free throws with 4:21 to play in the second quarter.
During that time London found its stride offensively and was able to open a 17-9 advantage. LHS’ lead grew to 30-19 midway through the third quarter before Alder made a frantic comeback, ultimately taking a 35-34 lead on a bucket by Jillian Jaske with 4:28 to play.
Jaske scored on three consecutive trips down the floor in the fourth quarter. But the momentum would swing back in favor of the Raiders following Minner’s game-changing three point make.
“It was a game of streaks. We went nine minutes without scoring there in the first half and that kind of put us behind the 8-ball,” Wehner said. “We were down 11 or 12 but came back to take the lead. We’re capable, we’re just a little bit inconsistent.
“I thought overall our girls played pretty good, they played hard all the way to the end. Against a good shooting team, sending them to the free throw line like we did was tough. I’ve seen them play a couple times, we played them, we know how good they are. And they’re going to be good next year. They’ll be one of the top teams in the Central District.”
London was led in scoring by Kaitlin Patterson’s 14 points, Minner finished with 12. Alder’s Huff scored 10 in the loss, while Jaske scored eight.
As for Long and his team, getting to a district semifinal is a step in the right direction for a program on the rise.
“I think our girls were a little nervous heading into this one but we got the job done,” Long said. “We know we get Eastmoor next, that’s a very good program. But we also think we’re a good program. It’s going to be two teams with contrasting styles, but with the girls we have I think we can play with them. I think it’ll be a good game.”
Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.