Much like the Lady Dragons, Cumberland stayed within striking distance throughout the first half of Thursday's game. But the Lady Jackets again used a dominant third-quarter effort to seal the win as they cruised to a 59-41 victory over the Lady Skins.
"We didn't run our offense well in the first half we forced a lot of stuff," Middlesboro coach Elgie Green said. "Defensively, we weren't matching up, we weren't moving or helping. I told them we had to pick it up on offense and defense in the third quarter."
Middlesboro outscored the Lady Skins 21-4 in the third quarter to turn a three-point halftime edge into a comfortable 20-point margin going into the final period. The Lady Jackets held an 11-8 advantage on the glass in the quarter and didn't commit a single turnover after giving the ball away 13 times in the first half.
"That was definitely big for us," Green said.
The second-half meltdown was an all-too-familiar story for the Lady Skins. Cumberland has struggled to put together consistent four-quarter performances for much of the season.
"We came out with no intensity on defense and on the boards. We didn't attack on offense, taking it to the hole like we did in the first half," Cumberland coach John Bond said. "That took us out of it real fast."
The Lady Skins suffered a blow early in the third quarter as Erika Letanosky got into foul trouble. The junior center picked up her third and fourth fouls quickly and found herself on the bench for the remainder of the period.
With Cumberland's top offensive and rebounding threat out of the game, the Lady Jackets had little trouble getting the ball inside. Freshman guard Sophie Robinson's 3-pointer at the 7:00 mark was the only one of Middlesboro's eight field goals in the period that came from more than a few feet from the basket.
"When she was in, we wanted to go to the post, but our players weren't finishing," Green said. "But when she went out, we definitely had a size advantage in the paint. We started getting some good looks and drawing some fouls."
"(Losing Letanosky) didn't help any, with our lack of height in the post," Bond said. "We get a lot smaller when she's out, and we're small overall, anyway. They've got a physical team, and they play real aggressive."
Letanosky hit a free throw for Cumberland before exiting the game. Her replacement, eighth-grader Samantha Sexton, scored the Lady Skins' other three points in the period with a free throw and a short jumper.
Middlesboro center Brooklyn Jimison, meanwhile, scored seven of her 11 points in the quarter as the Lady Jackets rolled to a 51-31 lead.
Junior guard Emily Osborne dropped in a layup and drained a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter, and the Lady Skins were unable to mount a comeback bid. Senior point guard Brianne Cornett scored six points in the quarter to lead Cumberland, and junior Brianna Cornett added a pair of long jumpers.
Free throws presented a problem for the Lady Skins throughout the game. Cumberland shot just 43 percent (10-for-23) from the line.
Bond was frustrated by his team's reluctance to shoot.
"We seem to have a problem with having somebody who wants to step up and take shots. We don't have anybody looking to shoot."
The game was a back-and-forth affair early. The Lady Jackets held a slim 9-8 lead before ending the first quarter with a 9-3 spurt. Sophomore Ashley Williams scored back-to-back baskets and freshman Shaleesha Coleman added a three-point play in the run.
Letanosky opened the second quarter with a pair of baskets, and eighth-grader Kendra Russell later scored five straight points as the Lady Skins tried to pull even. Letanosky's free throw at the 5:09 mark knotted the score at 21-21.
From there, though, the Lady Jackets raced back in front with a 9-1 run that included four points by Mallory Shoffner and three by Jimison. Cumberland scored the final five points of the half to pull within three at the break.
Brianne Cornett and Letanosky were the Lady Skins' only double-figure scorers in the game, with 13 and 11 points, respectively. The duo also led the team in rebounds, with eight apiece, and in assists, with two each.
Middlesboro was led by Coleman and Jimison with 11 points each. Robinson and Osborne each contributed 10.
Senior forward Mary Flanary missed her second straight game with a slight knee injury. She is being kept out of the lineup as a precaution.
The win put the Lady Jackets on the cusp of clinching the No. 1 seed in the 52nd District Tournament. Middlesboro, which won its seventh straight game, improved to 18-6 overall and 7-1 in district play.
The Lady Jackets can clinch the top seed with wins over Evarts on Feb. 7 and Cumberland on Feb. 17, both at home.
"When we came in tonight, I told them this was going to be a big game for us. It seems like we usually struggle when we come here to play," Green said.
"We don't overlook anybody, and we know we have to play our best. But winning here, and winning at Evarts on the road (Monday night), we have an advantage because we have two (district) games left at home."
Bond noted how improved the Lady Jackets are from last year's 15-12 squad.
"Everybody knew, with all of them back from last year, that they were going to be a lot better, and they are," he said. "They play hard, and they've got a lot of depth. They've progressed like they should have."
Cumberland (7-8 overall, 1-5 district) will play host to Red Bird tonight.
Middlesboro returns to action Wednesday in the All "A" Classic at EKU's McBrayer Arena in Richmond. The Lady Jackets will face Region 10 champion Paris at 1:30 p.m.
Ashley Williams scored 15 points to lead the Lady Jackets to a 42-23 victory in the junior varsity contest.
Mallory Shoffner and Samantha Coleman added 10 points each for Middlesboro.
Cumberland (3-4) was led by Lyndsey Cornett with 12 points. Samantha Sexton scored nine, and Jade Marshall added two.
Sophie Robinson 2-8 5-7 10, Shaleesha Coleman 5-9 1-2 11, Emily Osborne 4-7 0-0 10, Amber Johnson 2-2 0-2 4, Brooklyn Jimison 3-12 5-8 11, Ashley Williams 2-3 0-0 4, Mallory Shoffner 3-6 3-6 9, Danielle Gilbert 0-2 0-0 0, Samantha Coleman 0-1 0-0 0, Katie Maiden 0-0 0-0 0, Whitney Ellis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-50 14-25 59.
Brianne Cornett 4-8 5-13 13, Kendra Russell 2-12 0-0 5, Brianna Cornett 2-4 0-0 4, Sarah Adams 1-4 1-2 3, Erika Letanosky 4-7 3-6 11, Lyndsey Cornett 0-2 0-0 0, Ewanna Wilson 0-0 0-0 0, Samantha Sexton 2-3 1-2 5, Casey Blair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 15-40 10-23 41.
Middlesboro 18 12 21 8 59
Cumberland 11 16 4 10 41
3-point goals: Middlesboro 3-12 (Osborne 2-5, Robinson 1-1, Jimison 0-1, Sh. Coleman 0-2, Shoffner 0-3), Cumberland 1-9 (Russell 1-5, Brianne Cornett 0-1, Brianna Cornett 0-1, L. Cornett 0-2). Rebounds: Middlesboro 31 (Sh. Coleman, Johnson 5), Cumberland 35 (Brianne Cornett, Letanosky 8). Assists: Middlesboro 10 (Shoffner 3), Cumberland 5 (Brianne Cornett, Letanosky 2). Turnovers: Middlesboro 17, Cumberland 21. Fouled out: Cumberland (Letanosky).