DECATUR — When the defense is on, MacArthur girls basketball coach Michael Williams will put his basketball team up against anyone in the state.
The Generals dish out a full-court press and use the speed of their three guards: Taya Davis, Jayda Dees and Kyyawna Johnson to create havoc at the point of attack. Down low, Quincenia Jackson and Mariah Shores are enforcers in the post, before the bench comes in and keeps the intensity rolling.
Its a recipe that's worked for Williams since he took over as head coach prior to last season.
For a stretch to open the fourth quarter on Thursday in a 67-58 loss to Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, MacArthur (19-8, 10-5) fired on all cylinders defensively and made the thought of erasing an 18-point deficit against a top-tier team less of a dream and more of a reality.
"We locked down on defense and got after them and that was the difference," Williams said.
MacArthur forced nearly every turnover imaginable. SHG (22-6, 14-1) had five-second violations, travels, errant passes and offensive fouls. They also connected on their free throws down the stretch and gathered themselves just long enough to ward off a MacArthur rally after the Generals got as close as seven points with just under a minute left, thanks to eight SHG turnovers in the fourth.
"Oh my gosh, we just didn't do very good against that press," SHG coach Steve Klunick said. "They've very athletic. They were turning us over. We just weren't very fundamentally sound."
The Generals led by four midway through the second quarter behind an energized defense and effective offense before the Cyclones went on a 13-0 run in just more than two minutes, and appeared to be on their way to the locker room with a 38-30 halftime lead before Dees, who finished with 11 points, drained a three-quarter court heave to get back within five.
"As we walked out to go to the locker room, everybody was excited and ready to play the next half," Jackson said.
But that momentum didn't carry the Generals to a burst out of the gate to open the third quarter. Instead, SHG opened the frame on a 15-1 run before MacArthur's Kayla Jackson hit a 3-pointer to stop the run. SHG entered the fourth quarter with a 55-37 lead.
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"We lost focus, man," Williams said. "We didn't come out with any energy. We're a defensive team. When we play good defense, it leads to transition for our offense. We did a poor job. We had a couple attitudes and I had to put them on the bench. They know me now. If you're going to be disrespectful and you're not going to listen, I'm going to put you on the bench."
"I feel like everybody got a little bit lazy," Jackson added. "They felt like since she hit that it was going to be an easier win. "
Jackson led MacArthur with 15 points and eight rebounds while facing a slew of Cyclone defenders. Every time Jackson, a standout sophomore, turned around, SHG was waiting for her. She faced three defenders against Rochester earlier this season, and she saw nearly the same amount of attention on Thursday.
"It was hard," Jackson said. "Rochester is the only team that has doubled me like that and put three girls on me like that. SHG did it tonight. When it's like that I have to fight even harder."
Williams, though, saw it a different way.
"Just how Q gets officiated," he said. "It's tough. She gets the Shaq rules. She's got people all on her and we can't get any ... people just don't see it."
SHG had three players — Payton Vorreyer (12), Sophie Lowis (18) and Victoria Zeigler (13) — in double figures.
Thursday's game was hardly the same as the Dec. 1 matchup where SHG rolled by MacArthur 81-38. Davis led the Generals with 13 points in that game and Jackson added 12 of her own.
"When you make shots, the whole game is different," Klunick said. "That first game we made shots and they didn't, but man, they're a really good team. That first score doesn't mean anything to this one. This was a good game."
Said Williams: "We watched film, we came up with a game plan. We just made some changes. We tried to pressure them full court. They're so fundamentally sound and so well coached that we had to make some adjustments. Our adjustments were the reason why we were able to stay with them."