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Lady Indians beat Sparta to get back on winning track

By Geary Deniston
Contributing writer
updated: 2/5/2020 4:49 PM

The Du Quoin Lady Indians overcame a ragged start to beat Sparta, 39-26, in a SIRR Mississippi conference girls basketball game at Anders Gymnasium Thursday.

"Conference games are always hard and we survived," said Du Quoin coach Shawn File. "Sparta did a good job being physical with us and their zone at times bothered us. I told the girls before the game that defense wins ballgames and if you hold teams to 26 points I like my shot.

"It doesn't have to be pretty. You just want that "w" in your column. There's a shot we'll see Sparta in a couple weeks in the regional and we'll be better the next time."

Du Quoin improved to 14-11 and 3-5 in the conference while Sparta dropped to 7-17 and 0-8. Both teams were coming off losses that snapped three-game winning streaks with Sparta losing to Nashville (21-7, 7-2 Mississippi) and Du Quoin to Pinckneyville (16-9, 4-4 Mississippi).

"That's a big win for us," File said. "Fourteen wins -- that's the high water mark (since 2012). One of our goals was to finish at or above .500 and we're now guaranteed to be at least .500. We now have won four of our last five heading into the last week of the season. You want to be playing your best ball this time of the season."

Both teams were ragged at the start with the Lady Bulldogs turning the ball over 11 times and the Lady Indians eight. The first basket didn't come until two minutes had elapsed on Du Quoin's third shot when Ayanna Dunklin stole the ball and went the length of the court for a layup while being fouled. However, she missed her free throw attempt.

Abbi Mocaby doubled the lead with a layup 1:18 later and Sparta finally got on the board with a jumper from the free-throw line by Gabby Ware on Sparta's second shot of the game. Ware led all scorers with 16 points, including two 3-pointers and 6-of-7 from the line.

Du Quoin upped its lead to 8-2 on baskets by Delaynie Dearmond and Lauren Heape with 1:41 remaining. Up 10-3 with 30.7 seconds left in the quarter on a layup by Heape, Sparta came back with Erianna Henry making two free throws before scoring after a steal on a shot from the right corner at the buzzer. That cut the lead to 10-7 heading into the second quarter.

Du Quoin extended its lead to 16-7 in the first 3:06 of the second quarter on baskets by Ayanna Dunklin, Mocaby following a steal and Heape. However, after shooting .500 (3-of-6) to build the lead the Lady Indians went stone cold, missing their last 11 shots of the second quarter.

The Bulldogs' Henry cut the lead to 16-9 on a layup with 4:40 left, but Du Quoin extended it back to nine points at the line sinking 2-of-5 with 2:40 remaining.

The Lady Bulldogs' offense continued to be limited, taking and missing only two shots since Henry last scored. Their frustration moved to the line, missing the front end of two 1-and-1s in the last two minutes.

Henry broke that streak when the senior forward drained a 3 with 52 seconds remaining to cut the lead to six at the half.

Du Quoin shot over .500 (8-of-14) in the first 11:06 of the first half while Sparta made just 4-of-22 shots, including 1-of-6 from beyond the arc.

The Lady Indians doubled their lead in the first 2:38 of the third quarter on baskets by Mocaby, Heape and Bailey Harsy and extended it to 14 points two minutes later.

Sparta cut the lead to 12 with two free throws, and had a chance to cut it to 10, but missed two attempts 49 seconds later. Loveleen Dunklin scored with 1:58 remaining and once again Sparta missed a chance to cut the lead by splitting a pair of free throws with seven seconds left.

Du Quoin jumped out to an 18-point lead with four minutes left in the game and the closest Sparta could get was 13 points in the final two minutes.

Something interesting happened in the fourth quarter. Cousins Ayanna and Loveleen Dunklin are very rarely on the court at the same time. In fact, when one enters the game the other one usually leaves without being told.

"We love playing with each other and feel like we play better together," Ayanna said. "However, we only play together in the games we struggle in. It hasn't happened a lot, maybe three or four games.

"We both bring different qualities. She's better offense and I'm better defense."

This time when Loveleen came in and Ayanna automatically began to leave, Coach File started yelling for her to stay. The cousins played together until Loveleen fouled out a minute later.

"Part of it is I get out of breath very easily," Ayanna said. "I try not to use my inhaler that much so I can stop using it. She will come in and then we switch back and forth. That helps us out more."

• Du Quoin will host Anna-Jonesboro Tuesday for Senior Night, and will close out the regular season against Nashville on the road Thursday. Their first regional game is at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10 at Columbia, when the #5-ranked Lady Indians play #12-ranked Althoff Catholic.