PEABODY — The Peabody girls basketball team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, defeating Northeastern Conference opponent Classical 55-32 at Peabody High Friday.
Peabody freshman Oluchi Okananwa led all scorers with 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Senior captains Catherine Manning (five points, eight rebounds) and Kristina Rossignoll (10 points, four rebounds) also had solid performances.
“Oluchi’s quite a player for us,” Tanners coach Stan McKeen said. “But she got into foul trouble in the first quarter. Kristina had a good night and Catherine was great rebounding under the boards. Really, all five starters played well for us tonight.”
The Tanners dominated the glass from start to finish and played near-perfect defense for a majority of the game, allowing just 14 points midway through the third quarter.
“That’s what we need,” McKeen said of the rebounding. “We had a size advantage and we had to take advantage of that and we did tonight. The defense was very good, that’s been the difference, I think. Our defense has turned into a whole lot of good offense and easy baskets at the end.
“I’m pleased,” McKeen added. “It was a good win. I know Classical’s a young team, they’re in a building process and I’ve been down that road. I know all about it. But so far so good. We’re 7-1 and undefeated in the conference so hopefully it continues.”
The Rams struggled to get anything going offensively and couldn’t slow Okananwa down in transition.
“Peabody’s a very good opponent,” Classical coach Tom Sawyer said. “We executed as much as we could, as well as we could but we had to make shots and we didn’t do that.
“We knew we had to stop (Okananwa) in transition and we did the best we could, but at the end of the day you look in the book and she had 19 points. She’s a real difference maker, not only on this team but in the league.”
Jean Gupton-Morrison led the Rams with nine points, five rebounds and four steals.
The Tanners got off to a fast start thanks to an early 3-pointer from Rossignoll to go ahead by four. The Rams were called for a travel on their next possession and Rossignoll made another basket to put Peabody ahead 10-4.
Peabody continued the run late into the first quarter. Okananwa came off the bench and hit a 3-pointer on her first shot of the game and a few minutes later another 3-pointer from Rossignoll extended the Tanners lead to 19-9.
It was much of the same in the second quarter. Classical struggled to get rebounds and produce offense while Colleen Crotty and Brooke Hodas both hit clutch 3-pointers to help put Peabody well ahead, 36-14, at halftime.
“It was a little bit about size and a little bit about heart and toughness,” Sawyer said. “My kids have plenty of heart and toughness but tonight there were periods of time where I thought we could’ve had more.”
The Tanners kept the pressure on the Rams in the second half, eventually extending their lead to 30 points. Classical went on a late 10-point run late but that was all the Rams could put together.
“We played well in the first half,” McKeen said. “We got everyone involved in the second half and we got a little sloppy in that third and part of the fourth quarter. We had a couple different combinations out there. When you have a lead trying to maintain it for four quarters is tough. We’ve been very fortunate this year to get out to some big leads at halftime.”
Despite the loss, Sawyer was pleased to see a solid effort.
“That’s what we ask of them,” Sawyer said. “No matter the score we’re going to play hard right to the final whistle. That’s what I challenged the kids with at halftime and they responded to that. We just have to move on to the next game. We have to try to do things a little bit better. Defend better, execute offense better and coach better.”
Classical (4-4) plays at Medford Monday (7). The Tanners (7-1) host Danvers Tuesday (7).