UPPER MARLBORO — — Aberdeen's No. 1 girls basketball team found itself in double jeopardy Tuesday night at nationally ranked Riverdale Baptist.
The Eagles managed to climb out of a 10-point first-half hole, but when Riverdale made its run in the third quarter, they weren't able to answer, falling, 72-51, for their first loss of the season to the Crusaders, ranked No. 6 in USA Today's Girls Basketball Super 25 and No. 1 in The Washington Post.
"It's a great learning experience," Aberdeen forward TK Fowlkes said. "It's bad to be on the losing end, but winning the state title is still our goal. If we could have been undefeated, that would have been great, this will help us."
The Crusaders (31-2) scored the first 10 points of the game, but the Eagles (21-1) weren't intimidated. They took advantage of some Riverdale errors and built momentum in the second quarter. They took their first lead, 17-15, on Bri Jones' follow shot a minute and a half into the second quarter and ran it as high as 29-24 on two free throws by Jones with 2:28 left in the first half.
Although the Eagles took a 33-29 lead into the second half, they couldn't hold on against the superior athleticism and depth of Riverdale, which has seven seniors all signed with Division I programs. The Crusaders took the lead for good, 34-33, on Jennie Simms' runner with 6:30 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles struggled in the quarter without point guard Lakeia Hayden, who went down in late in the second quarter after reinjuring her right knee, which is already in a brace because of a torn meniscus. Aberdeen coach Stacy Liles said she did not know whether Hayden's injury was serious, but the senior did not return. Later in the quarter, backup point guard Kierra Palmer went out with a leg cramp.
Without those two, the Eagles had 18 turnovers and the Crusaders ran their lead as high as 51-39 late in the third quarter.
"Looking at their bench and looking at the film, I knew that later on in the game, they would tire out," Crusaders coach Diane Richardson said, "so we started putting pressure on them. We noticed that Bri, in the first half, wasn't coming across half-court, so we knew that we had that extra effort to put pressure on their guards, because Bri's not coming down. We did that and capitalized on that. They got some costly turnovers and we scored."
Jones led the Eagles with 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Crusaders were athletic all around and kept her in check. It didn't help that the Eagles went away from their game plan in the second half.
"I think we came in with a different mindset in the second half," Fowlkes said. "We wanted to do inside-out but we stayed away from it. We wanted to get the ball in the middle of the court, but we kept going to the side. They were just attacking all of our weaknesses and that's what got us."
Jimmia McCluskey had 11 points for the Eagles while Nia Alleyne added 10. Simms, Kelila Atkinson and Auteaonna Gilmore scored 15 each for the Crusaders, who were without their best player, Clemson-bound Jonquel Jones. Jones, who is from the Bahamas, had to stay behind when the Crusaders returned from a tournament there this weekend, because her paperwork wasn't in order. Richardson said she should be back Wednesday.
The Eagles will move on to Wednesday night's Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship against C. Milton Wright at Harford Tech at 5 p.m. They will open regional play Monday, aiming to win the Class 3A state title after falling in the championship game last year.
Tuesday night's game was a good tuneup Liles said.
"They're a high-caliber team. We knew that coming in," Liles said. "We knew they were going to keep on coming . "That's why you want to play them. We know they're going to pressure for the whole game. We see it a little bit in our county, but you don't see that. The reason to play them is to get ready for states."
A—Alleyne 10, McCluskey 11, Hayden 4, Fowlkes 2, B.Jones 14, Palmer 6, Oliver 2, E.Jones 2. Totals 16 16-28 51
RB—Johnson 8, Mungo 4, Gilmore 15, Simms 15, Atkinson 15, Jackson 5, Blaine 4, Boykins 4, Sampson 2. Totals 27 14-27 72. Half: A, 33-29.