Top-ranked Mount Hebron survived a tenacious effort from fifth-ranked Howard last night, as the Vikings needed a late six-point run to outlast the host Lions, 56-47.
Hebron (12-1, 5-0 Howard County), which trailed 13-10 after the first quarter, took the lead two minutes into the second period and never trailed after that. But the Vikings, who had the Lions (11-2, 4-1) on the ropes repeatedly in the second half, could not secure the victory until the final two minutes.
"I can't be any more proud than I am, because we can't play any harder than we did," said Howard coach Craig O'Connell. "Mentally, we were ready, but I give Hebron all the credit. They are so good, so skilled."
The Lions were hampered down the stretch by the absence of point guard Camille Powell (eight points), who left the game three times in the second half with severe leg cramps. Powell, in obvious pain, departed for good with 2:17 remaining and Hebron leading, 52-47.
Hebron, behind forward Kris Bryant (game-high 21 points) and point guard Erica McCauley (16 points, four assists), seemingly had control at the start of the fourth quarter with a 41-33 lead. Howard forward Emily Petrlik then hit back-to-back 15-footers to cut the lead to 44-40 with 6:10 left.
Bryant and guard Emily Yanero (14 points, 11 rebounds) sank two free throws apiece to make it 48-40, but Powell and freshman guard Mona Jackson answered with short jumpers to halve the lead again to 48-44 with 3:40 to go. Yanero's 12-footer gave Hebron a 50-44 advantage.
Then Jackson, who led the Lions with 16 points -- she scored seven of Howard's 10 third-quarter points -- made a three-pointer from the corner to make it 50-47 at the 2:55 mark.
Powell limped off the floor shortly after that, and Bryant, Yanero and McCauley scored baskets to put away the Lions.
"They [Howard] outworked us as far as I'm concerned," said Hebron coach Dave Greenberg. "They're a good team, they gave us some matchup problems, and we made some poor decisions. At least we kept our poise at the end."
Howard came out in a 2-3 zone defense that seemed to bother the Vikings, who committed four first-period turnovers.
Then, Hebron came alive in the second period behind Bryant and McCauley. They accounted for 15 straight points -- including two three-pointers by McCauley -- as the Vikings took a 27-19 lead with 37 seconds left in the half. The Lions then scored four quick points. Powell's 12-footer at the buzzer cut Hebron's halftime lead to 27-23.