Gateway girls grind out win over Armstrong

Thursday, January 23, 2020 | 10:57 PM

Armstrong girls basketball coach Kirk Lorigan joked that he started looking in the stands for James Naismith, because it felt like the cylinder hoops at Gateway’s gymnasium were replaced with peach baskets.

Gateway coach Curtis Williams summed up the way the offense went for either team succinctly by saying it wasn’t pretty.

Through three quarters, only 10 shots were made from the floor and neither team had reached the teens on the scoreboard, but when the game was on the line in the fourth, the Gators found a way to slay the shooting demon and pull away.

Standout senior forward Lexi Jackson made three crucial shots, two on offensive rebounds, and Lexi Margolis made a key layup late to propel Gateway to a 28-16 win over Armstrong in a Section 2-5A game Thursday night.

“I don’t know how many positives there were other than the fact that we won,” Williams said. “We didn’t do a good job in a lot of areas. If I had to find a positive, it would be that we had enough will to will ourselves to a victory even though things weren’t going our way for most of the night.”

The win keeps Gateway (12-4, 7-2) in the hunt for the section title behind Plum (10-4, 6-1). The teams meet on the final night of section play Feb. 6.

Armstrong (9-6, 5-4) remains in the fourth and final playoff spot in the section but has the same number of losses as Hampton, which swept the River Hawks and has played two fewer section games.

There were a few statistical oddities in the game. Neither team made a 3-pointer. The first quarter almost went scoreless, but Dynasty Shegog made a layup with 38 second remaining to get Gateway on the board. It was the lone score in the quarter.

Gateway missed its first 10 shots. Armstrong missed its first nine shots and two free throws before Olivia Yaney converted a layup at the 7:10 mark of the second quarter for the team’s first field goal.

Gateway led 9-8 at halftime and 14-13 at the end of the third quarter. The Gators turned to Jackson to create separation in the fourth.

Jackson scored on two putbacks on offensive rebounds 32 seconds apart late in the fourth to give Gateway its biggest lead of the night at 24-15. Margolis followed with a layup 20 seconds later that pushed the lead to double digits.

Margolis finished with 10 points and Jackson scored nine.

Williams was happy to see Jackson take control in the fourth.

“She’s totally capable of doing that,” Williams said. “Whenever that spark hits her, she can impact the game offensively, defensively, rebounding, blocking shots and altering shots. She was able to make a couple baskets and get a couple rebounds that kept them from getting second and third opportunities on the offensive end. Her effort in the fourth quarter was really the difference for us.”

The River Hawks played the majority of the game without their leading scorer, Jaylen Callipare, who was dealing with a sore back. Callipare tried to give it a go but lasted only a couple of minutes in the first before exiting for the evening. Armstrong’s second leading scorer, Shaelyn Clark, was also playing through an ailment and was limited to one point.

The River Hawks struggled from the floor all night without Callipare. They made only five shots against a Gateway defense that yields a Class 5A-low 37.7 points per game. Armstrong also had a half-dozen shots go halfway down only to roll back out.

“Shooting is contagious on both ends. When you make them, the hoop feels like it gets bigger and when you don’t, it feels like it gets smaller,” Lorigan said. “Tonight, it just kept getting smaller and smaller.”

Though the shots weren’t falling, Lorigan was pleased with every other aspect of the game. He expects his group to continue grinding away as they try to secure a playoff spot.

“I asked the girls in the locker room what they didn’t do well tonight and they said, ‘shoot,’ and then I asked them what else and they were silent,” Lorigan said. “That’s because we did everything else that we wanted to do. We defended, we rebounded, we fought hard, we got to loose basketballs, and we held some of their top scorers to a low number of points.

“There’s only one other time that (Gateway) has scored less than 30 points. The only thing we didn’t do is hit shots. We got the shots we wanted. They just didn’t go down.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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