Girls basketball: Leah Palmer's overtime 3-pointer gives Geneva win over Sycamore
Geneva was forcing Sycamore into turnovers early in the teams' battle Thursday, but the Viking defense softened and the turnovers stopped.
After Sycamore climbed back into the game and forced overtime, the defense for the Vikings returned to form when it mattered most.
The Spartans turned the ball over on two key possessions in the overtime, sandwiched around a Leah Palmer 3-pointer in Geneva's 56-51 win.
"We were a little soft on defense but we definitely toughened up in overtime," Palmer said. "We made some key stops and that led to a great offensive basket."
After scoring the first seven points -- and giving up the next nine -- Sycamore (19-12) gave up the lead for good on a Palmer 3-pointer with 3:35 left in the second quarter. But despite falling down as much as nine, Sycamore tied things up when Lexi Carlsen was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 17.1 seconds left, hitting all three to tie the game.
"To take a team like that to overtime‚ especially knowing what our goals are, it says a lot about the grit and the toughness we have," Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said. "We're playing our best basketball, which is exactly what you want heading into regional."
Geneva (25-3) forced nine first-half turnovers but only 13 for the game. But the last two were the biggest.
With the game tied at 51 in the final minute, Mallory Armstong missed a 3-pointer for Sycamore but Monroe McGhee got the offensive rebound. Sycamore turned the ball over a few seconds later on an inbound play.
With 28.5 seconds left, Palmer drained a 3-pointer to put the Vikings up, then Rilee Hasegawa got a steal at the other end. Palmer made two free throws with 6.7 seconds to cap her 23-point, seven-rebound performance and ice the win.
"From the third quarter we're screaming we need more defense," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "We're just trading baskets with these kids and I thought maybe a little soft on the defensive end. The last two possessions they came up big with some big stops so that was good."
Lauren Slagle added 20 points for the Vikings to go with nine rebounds, two blocks ad two steals. No other Viking scored more than five points.
The teams opened against each other, with Geneva winning the neutral-site game 66-52. Wickness said his Spartans squad is a completely different club heading into its playoff opener at home Tuesday against either Belvidere or Freeport.
The loss against Geneva to start the year was part of a five-game losing streak to start the season for Sycamore, which started 1-7.
"We have a little bit of an edge to us defensively," Wickness said. "I think we're ready to handle playoff basketball, which turns into a lot of half-court defense."
McGhee had 15 points and six rebounds for the Spartans, Evyn Carrier had 13 points and 13 rebounds, and Carlsen had 10 points and five rebounds.
The teams have a recent tradition of closing the season against each other, and Meadows said Thursday's game shows why it's so valuable heading into the postseason -- which for the Vikings starts Tuesday against either Hoffman Estates or Bartlett.
"It's why we like to play these guys the last game," Meadows said. "We know it's going to be a good battle for us going into the postseason. To be able to execute and finish in an OT game even, we got a little extra practice."