Blackwell's 31 help Whitfield rally past O'Fallon in fourth quarter

Blackwell's 31 help Whitfield rally past O'Fallon in fourth quarter

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O'FALLON, ILL. • After a month of practice and no games, the Whitfield Warriors were ready for battle Tuesday.

Missouri signee Aijha Blackwell scored 31 points and Jade Moore had 17 points and five 3-pointers as Whitfield downed O'Fallon 64-56 in a nonconference girls basketball game.

Whitfield was supposed to play three games in a jamboree last week, but wintry weather canceled the event.

"We've been practicing very hard," said Blackwell, a 6-foot senior who was 13-for-26 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. "We compete at practice and it showed today. We turned our defense up and we got busy on the boards."

Whitfield, which finished second in the Missouri Class 3 state tournament in 2017 and third last season, trailed 44-41 early in the fourth quarter. But a basket by Blackwell opened a 14-0 run that gave the Warriors a 55-44 lead with 5:12 to play. Blackwell scored with 10 points in the uprising.

O'Fallon (1-3) trailed by at least 10 until sophomore Aubrey Mister scored in the final 30 seconds. Whitfield helped itself by committing just eight turnovers, compared to 14 by the Panthers.

Blackwell said the Warriors have no interest being among the best teams in Missouri when the season ends. They want to be No. 1.

"That's the dream," Blackwell said. "That's what we've been working hard for, and we're going to continue to work hard for it this entire season. That's our goal, and if we get it, it's like a dream come true, an accomplishment."

Whitfield coach Michael Slater said his team's experience was a key factor down the stretch.

"We're a senior-heavy team right now," he said, suggesting the comeback showed "a little bit of our maturity despite a couple of ill-advised things we did late."

Sophomore Amelia Bell topped O'Fallon with 13 points. Senior Reyna Bullock had 12 points and three 3-pointers and junior Kayla Gordon dropped in 11 points.

O'Fallon, which trailed 33-23 late in the second quarter, forged ahead 39-37 on senior Ashley Schloer's 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2:04 to play in the third quarter. A basket by sophomore Tyana Lovelace stretched the gap to 41-37.

But after Gordon's basket put the Panthers ahead 44-41 with 7:45 remaining in the game, they didn't score again until two free throws by Bell at the 4:47 mark. The Panthers' next basket didn't come until another 3-pointer by Schloer with 3:34 left.

"The girls played extremely hard," O'Fallon coach Nick Knolhoff said. "We changed it up in the second half when we took the lead. I went triangle-and-two on their two best players and it kind of confused them for a little bit."

But Blackwell couldn't be contained. She scored 17 second-half points, including a 3-pointer in the game-changing run.

"She's a heck of a player," Knolhoff said. "She's very smart with the ball, she's unselfish and makes good passes. That pullup jumper she hits from 8 to 10 feet is pretty deadly. They've got one heck of a player. She's a post with guard skills in high school. Being able to step out and hit the 3 and take a smaller guard into the post and just do what you want with her is pretty impressive."

And Blackwell does it without some of the baggage of other Division I recruits. She's a galvanizing force on the team, not a distraction.

"I'm the type of player to get my team involved first," Blackwell said. "I think team first instead of myself, because if I think of myself, I'm so worried about how many points I'm putting up or how many steals I'm getting. I like get the team involved with me so it's not just me."

Knolhoff is not disappointed by his team's 1-3 mark.

"We've opened up with (Whitfield), and then Peoria Richwoods was the (Class) 3A state champion," he said. "I set our schedule up to push the girls the entire year, to get us ready for a regional. That's always our main goal."

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