FISHERS – For a half on Friday night, the Zionsville girls basketball team played with, if not better than, the No. 5 ranked and defending state champion Hamilton Southeastern Royals.
But they were unable to sustain it in the second half.
The Eagles were out-scored by 11 in the second half, including 7-0 in the fourth quarter, and fell 52-38 to the Royals.
“We played really well,” Zionsville head coach Andy Maguire said. “Our defense was solid throughout. We didn’t score in the fourth quarter, and only lost by 14. Laila played outstanding, and in the first half, she was the best player on the floor many times. But overall, our defense was really good and we are playing with a lot of confidence.”
Hull scored 22 points, her second most of the season, making 10 of 15 shots.
She also grabbed seven rebounds. Maguire said it was important for the freshman to have a big game in a big environment.
“I think it was important that she have a game like that against a good team,” Maguire said. “Her assignment was Sydney (Parrish) and Sydney had a nice game, but Laila took that as a challenge and stepped up her game. It’s a sign of good things to come, and her confidence level right now is sky high.”
Zionsville led by one late in the first quarter before a buzzer-beating 3 gave the Royals a 14-12 lead.
The long-ball hurt the Eagles again right before the half, as right when it looked like they would go into the half tied, another buzzer-beating three made them trail 26-23.
“I think it was a little deflating, because I felt like we out-played them in the first half,” Maguire said. “They hit that 3 at the buzzer, and hit two more 3s where we stopped them, and a loose ball went their way and they hit a shot. That’s nine points on three possessions we actually defended well. In the second half, Sydney got a little more active and took over.”
In the second half, the Eagles came back to tie the game at 28 early in the third quarter, but Hamilton Southeastern countered with an 8-0 run.
Zionsville got no closer than six the rest of the way.
Imani Thomas had nine points for the Eagles, and Katey Richason had seven points and nine rebounds.
Zionsville is back in action on Friday at home against Brownsburg.
“Defense is going to be huge again,” Maguire said. “Lately, we have been focused on their top two players and have every one else play help. It’s not a true triangle-and-two, but it frees some people up to do other things. It’s worked pretty well for us and hopefully we can keep that theme going.”
After that it is on to sectional play.
The Eagles drew Westfield and will face the Shamrocks on Tuesday, Feb. 4.
The Shamrocks won the regular season meeting 60-53.
“Westfield has been playing pretty well lately,” Maguire said. “They play man-to-man defense and they are really good at it. They will probably press us a little more, since it’s an area we aren’t as strong. I think we are better than the first time we played them, mainly because we have had Katey and Laila together for an extended period of time.”