By Josh Brown
PLEASANT HILL — Following last season, Newton knew it needed contributions from more than just a couple players.
Following their opener Tuesday, Milton-Union just needs someone to take advantage of chances.
Tatum McBride and Kaylee Kesler both reached double figures Tuesday night and the Indian defense forced 25 turnovers, while the Bulldogs simply couldn’t find a way to put the basketball in the net as the Newton girls basketball team pulled away for a 42-29 victory over Milton-Union at Newton High School.
McBride finished with a game-high 17 points and added five steals, while Kesler scored seven of her 10 points in the first half to help stake the Indians (2-0) out to a 26-17 lead at the break. Aliya Stine added five points and five rebounds, Anna Wolfe scored five points, Elizabeth Carroll had three points and Macy Flanary had two points and six rebounds.
And after the graduation of all-time leading scorer Madison Mollette, the Indians knew they’d need to find scoring from new places.
“Last year, 80 percent of the team’s offense went through two people,” Newton coach Steve Fisher said. “I just felt that we had to distribute a little more and get more people involved. Those girls that were role-players last year are having to step up and learn how to become scorers, and we’re slowly making progress.
“I thought that Kesler played really well today, hit a couple 3s. Obviously, we’re putting the ball in Tatum’s hands, and she made some outstanding decisions tonight. I thought our post players are getting better. We’re continuing to work with them and develop our post play. We’re kind of starting from ground zero with our post play, and we’re making progress. Going against the kind of size Milton-Union has, you cannot practice against that. We felt like if we could get out and run their big girls, we’d be okay.”
Milton-Union (0-1), meanwhile, looked like a team playing its first game of the season. Early in the first quarter, the Bulldogs worked for and got the exact shots they wanted — but when it came to actually falling through the rim, the ball refused.
“We just couldn’t knock down shots,” Milton-Union coach Katie Roose said. “I felt like our execution of our offense in terms of getting ourselves good looks was really good. We just weren’t able to knock down shots. We kind of clawed ourselves back into it, but when we needed a bucket, we just couldn’t put it through the net. That’s a credit to them because their defensive intensity was very high, but we just couldn’t buy a bucket.”
Milton-Union went 1 for 7 — all on quality shots — to start the game, but a 3 by Madeline Brown still gave the Bulldogs a 5-4 lead early on. Carroll drilled a 3 to answer and put the Indians back on top, and a 3 and two steals and two free throws by McBride grew the lead to 12-5 before Taylor Jacobs canned a 3 at the buzzer to cut the lead to 12-8 Newton after one.
Shooting from behind the line was the only thing that kept the Bulldogs in the game — despite a large height edge inside, Milton-Union made only four 2-point baskets and six 3-point baskets in the game.
“We did have the height advantage, but we couldn’t seem to get it into our post players when we needed to, and when we did get it into the post, unfortunately tonight we weren’t able to put it in the bucket,” Roose said. “I told the girls that those shots, they will fall. But that’s something we need to work on — when given the opportunity, we have to be able to knock down shots.”
Milton-Union got to within three at 14-11 after another 3 by Brown, but that was as close as the Bulldogs would get. The Indians led by as many as 11 in the second quarter, and on the final play of the half they showed an ability to hustle and take advantage of opportunities. Stine stole the ball but missed the fast-break layup attempt, only to have Kassidi Alexander win the scramble for the rebound and pass it while laying on the floor to an open McBride, who nailed another buzzer-beating 3 to make it 26-17 at the half.
Both teams struggled in the third, with Newton leading 32-20 heading into the final quarter. The Indians led by as many as 19, though, and despite Milton-Union’s leading returning scorer Kristen Dickison finally getting going in the fourth quarter, Newton was able to pull away and put the game on ice.
Dickison, who also had three assists, hit two 3s and scored all nine of her points in the fourth quarter, while Brown hit all three of her 3s and scored nine first-half points to lead the Bulldogs. Liz Renner added four points and 10 rebounds, Jacobs had three points and six rebounds, Bri Stone had three points and four rebounds and Morgan Nemeth had one point.
Newton will look to keep rolling Thursday night as they host Mississinawa Valley to open Cross County Conference play.
“All-in-all, we’re 2-0,” Fisher said. “We break the season into mini-seasons. I felt Saturday night at Houston, home tonight and home Thursday against Mississinawa were big games for us.”
“We took some steps forward tonight and a step or two backwards. From the first game to the second, not totally unexpected. I’m real proud of how these girls have adapted to this system. They’ve played hard every practice, every scrimmage and every game, and you can’t ask for anything else.”
Milton-Union, meanwhile, will need to bounce back right away, traveling to Southwest Buckeye League Buckeye rival Preble Shawnee to open division play on Thursday.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead — literally,” Roose said. “We don’t play our first home game until Dec. 15. Our first five are on the road, and they’re not easy tasks. We play Preble Shawnee Thursday, go to Madison Saturday, then we go to Brookville Monday and then we go to Arcanum.
“It’s a tough road ahead, but there are definitely winnable games. Our effort tonight was very good, much improved in the second half. We have to have a short-term memory, learn from this and be ready to come out and compete against Preble.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.