Before the tip, Freeman entered the huddle under the Panthers’ basket and and said to her teammates: “Everyone came to see a show and everybody thought we would lose. I told them we were better than St. John’s and we had to play like it.”
Freeman was forced to miss the game with a knee sprain, but the top-ranked Panthers proved to be just as potent without her on Monday. Four players scored in double figures and Paul VI held off a fourth-quarter rally by the Lady Cadets to defeat its WCAC foe, 62-52.
Junior Kendall Hunter scored a team-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds for Paul VI (7-1, 3-0). The win was the Panthers’ first against St. John’s since 2006.
“We were really determined and we really wanted to make [Freeman] proud because she really wanted to play in this game,” Hunter said.
Whitney faced a tough Cadets defense but was never rattled as she knocked down 3 of 4 free throws in the final minutes to secure the win.
“This win showed that we play great team basketball,” Whitney said. “No one player makes this team, we can just come together at any moment and win together.”
The Cadets held a one-point lead after the first quarter, but a back-and-forth second ended with Paul VI ahead 21-20 at the half. The Panthers jumped to a 28-20 lead early in the third and didn’t relinquish their advantage for the rest of the night.
St. John’s (4-2, 1-1) received a tremendous scoring output from junior Amari Carter (26 points) and cut the lead to 46-45 when she hit pull-up jumper with less than five minutes remaining.
Coach Scott Allen didn’t call a timeout with the Panthers ahead by one, and they responded with a 10-0 run to take a 56-45 lead with less than three minutes left.
Paul VI made 6 of 8 free throws down the stretch. The Panthers made the most of their opportunities at the charity stripe, shooting 79 percent (22 for 28).
“Our guard play was really big in the second half, especially Whitney, who took control of the ball and made some really big plays,” Allen said. “Our free throws were huge, too. Our percentage hadn’t been good, but we hit them late tonight.”
Freeman received her MRI results, which revealed a level three knee sprain that has an expected recovery time of five to six weeks. She hopes to speed up that process in rehab, but her team showed that it can play without its star in a big WCAC win.
“I’m very proud of my team, we came together despite me being out,” Freeman said. “We executed the game plan most importantly and got the win.”