NEWTON — Playing to within four points of Class 4A’s third-ranked Ballard Bombers, Newton’s Cardinals had a strong first half at home Friday.
The Cardinal girls fell into a bad habit — not taking care of the basketball — in the second half. The Bombers exploited the Cardinals’ turnovers into a double-digit lead by the 5:39 mark of the third quarter. Ballard walked away with a 57-41 win.
“We have to value the basketball better. It’s all about taking care of the basketball. We came out and played well, but for whatever reason, we came out flat in the second half,” said Brandon Sharp, NHS girls’ head coach.
“We had a two-game stretch and this first half that we showed we can play when we value the ball. We’re forcing things to make that ‘ah’ play instead of making the good play and keep the ball.”
Newton began the season losing five games then won two in a row. The Cardinals lost their final game of the first semester and opened the second part of the season with Friday’s loss.
The Cardinals take a 2-1 Little Hawkeye Conference mark into Tuesday’s home game against conference newcomer Dallas Center-Grimes. The Mustangs stand atop of the LHC at 3-0, 6-2.
“We played the first 16 minutes extremely well with a focus and with a purpose,” Sharp said of the Cardinals against Ballard. “Our shot selection was great in the first half.”
Newton worked inside early with two baskets by Shelby Gray and two free throws from Sarah Kalkhoff to take a 6-2 lead. A putback by Hannah Rhoads put the Cardinals up 8-6 with 3:56 left in the first quarter.
Gray sank two free throws and Michaela Jacobsen’s follow shot had Newton leading 12-8. Jacobsen connected at the 1:12 mark and Lizzie Stock used an offensive rebound to score to give Newton a 16-11 lead.
Ballard’s Emily Knittel got down low in the block and scored. Jenna Moody turned a steal into a three-point play for the Bombers. The game was knotted 16-16 at the end of the first quarter.
Three Newton turnovers resulted in a nine-point run by the Bombers in the opening two minutes of the second quarter. The Cardinals responded with two buckets from Gray.
On the net possession, Rhoads turned to find Jacobsen streaking toward the basket and made the quick pass across the free-throw lane. Jacobsen scored, was fouled and hit the free throw.
Rhoads sank one of two free throws to make it 25-24 at the 3:35 mark of the second period. Newton had several opportunities to take the lead but missed. A 3-pointer by Ballard’s Taylor Larson came with 57 seconds before halftime. Ballard held a 28-24 lead at the break.
“We talked about how the first four minutes of the second half were going to be very important for us. We came out flat in the second half with a lack of focus and intensity,” Sharp said.
Newton had a rash of turnovers to open the third quarter. Sharp pointed that 14 of the Newton’s 25 turnovers in the game came in the second half “and seven or eight in that first bit of the third quarter.”
Ballard cashed in with nine straight points to gain a 37-24 lead. Jacobsen got out and scored in transition for Newton with the 3:46 remaining in the period. Jacobsen drilled a 3-pointer to make it 41-29 by the end of the quarter.
The Cardinals and the Bombers traded baskets much of the final eight minutes. Newton wasn’t able narrow the gap under 10 points.
“We like what we’ve seen from our team since the beginning of the season. We’ve made a lot of progress. One area we really have to focus on now is valuing the basketball,” Sharp said.
Jacobsen led the Cardinals with 15 points, five rebounds and two steals. Gray added 10 points and grabbed five rebounds. The Cardinals shot 31 percent, 15-of-49, from the field and hit 9-of-14 free throw attempts.
Ballard connected at a 43-percent clip (21-of-49) from the field and sank 12-of-14 free throw attempts. Knittel paced the Bombers with 22 points and Gabie Doud added 17 points. Jenna Moody scored 13 points.
Newton held a 39-24 rebound edge over Ballard. Stock pulled eight rebounds and Kalkhoff had six rebounds. Rhoads dished out three assists. Alex Hutchinson and Jacobsen had two steals each.
Newton’s junior varsity dropped a 22-17 decision to Ballard. It was 16-11 at halftime. Macy Leonard fired in 11 points for the Cardinals and Jessica Reynolds had six points.
Newton — Jenkins 1-1-3-3, Stock 1-0-2-2, Hutchinson 0/1-0-3-3, Rhoads 2-1-1-5, Gray 4-2-3-10, Gray 4-2-3-10, Jacobsen 5/1-2-3-15, Kalkhoff 0-3-4-3. TOTALS: 13/2-9-19-41.
Ballard — Peterson 0-2-2-2, Moody 3/2-1-2-13, Doud 7-3-5-17, McGee 0-0-1-0, Knittel 8-6-2-22, Ihle 0-0-2-0, Ossian 0-0-1-0, Dubberke 0-0-2-0, Larson 0/1-0-1-3. TOTALS: 18/3-12-18-57.