BRONX, NY - Francis Lewis is trying to solidify themselves as one of the teams to beat in the PSAL this season.
A good test came on Wednesday to prove themselves on the road against Truman, and while all looked good for most of the game, the Lady Patriots almost let a 23 point 3rd quarter lead slip away before hanging on for the 72-61 victory.
Francis Lewis coach Stephen Tsai knows his team. He knows they are a very talented team, but knows they have deficiencies, and he said that he pushes his girls to know what they have to do to succeed game in, and game out.
"Some of the teams we play are tougher, and definitely have more size then we do, so other teams have more leeway then we do. For us little things like boxing out become a big deal, and rebounds," Tsai said.
The Mustangs were another team that had the size edge on the Patriots, but in the early going, Francis Lewis was dominating, size or no size.
Sierra Green was getting into the lane, and scoring time after time on drives to the rim, and floaters where she would arc it above the interior threats of Truman.
Robyn Francis was hitting from deep, and Taliyah Brisco was running the show for Francis Lewis to perfection. The Lady Patriots were up 35-24 at the half, and they kept on churning to start the 3rd.
Green hit a corner three, and the Francis Lewis pressure defense led to numerous turnovers, as the Lady Patriots went on a 16-1 run midway through the quarter to go up 54-31 with 2:41 to go in the 3rd, but trouble was brewing for Francis Lewis.
The team saw a 19 point lead disappear against Midwood on Tuesday, and Green said that happens sometimes because of small fundamental mistakes the squad makes.
"Usually it's because we are rushing our shots, and aren't getting back on defense, because we get too confident that we are up," Green said.
Once again, that start to happen in this game. Daquana Smith and Aneisha Lyons were able to beat the trap and score getting to the rim, and the size advantage that Truman had started to pay dividends, as Marika Gordon was taking over the glass, and scoring on numerous putback opportunities, something that Tsai said was very frustrating for him to watch.
"This has been going on for about a week now. In my eyes we are starting to develop some bad habits, though we did respond, but for us all it takes is a little run and we are out if the picture," Tsai said.
The deficit for the Mustangs was cut all the way down to 65-60 with 1:27 to go, but as Tsai said, his group did respond. Cassidy Khan got herself to the FT line where she hit 2 free throws to up the lead back to 7, and then a big defensive stand where Gordon missed inside on 2 chances with 56 seconds really seemed to seal it.
Brisco was clutch at the line late, and Green capped it off with a top of the key jumper to up the lead back to double digits for Francis Lewis as they survived a shaky 4th quarter to hold on for the 72-61 win.
Green led the Lady Patriots with 20 points in the victory, while Francis added 13, and Brisco chipped in with 11.
For Truman, it was Smith who led the way, and paced all scorers with 22 points in the loss, with Lyons and Gordon adding 17 and 13 respectively in the defeat.
Mustangs head coach John Burke seemed to understand after the game that to compete with some of the best in the league, he needs more consistency from his girls.
"The thing with this AA league is there are some very good teams, some weak teams, and then there is teams in the middle like us, and Francis Lewis is one of the very good teams," Burke said. "You cannot play a half or even 3 quarters against a team like Francis Lewis like we did and think you can win."
He was clearly frustrated with the lack of a 32 minute effort from his group, something he says needs to change.
"Any good things we did were negated by the times we took plays off. We had too many moments on defense where we took off, and on offense we had lapses as well. We cannot do that and expect to become one of the good teams," Burke added.
Could letting the lead almost slip away have been a matter of looking ahead for Francis Lewis? They have Bergtraum in a big game in their home gym in 7 days, but Tsai didn't feel that was the case here.
"I do think we sometimes play down to our competition and we do have some lapses here and there, I don't think they are looking ahead though," Tsai said.
And while they may not be looking ahead, Green is looking forward to the game against the Lady Blazers, admitting it's been on her mind. To beat them though, she says one specific thing will be key.
"We have to stay focused and stop trying to be a hero and just listen to the coaches because they will help us lead the way," Green said.
Tsai remains confident with this group and its ability to do special things this season, but he notes it will all boils down to doing the one thing he wants the most.
"It's not just about playing the game; it's about playing it the right way. That's what we want, and that's what I want to us achieve."