Defending Class A girls basketball champion Omaha Central showed Saturday that it could be on track for another big season.
The second-ranked Eagles sprinted to a 16-point first-quarter lead and went on to post a 64-54 win over host Omaha Benson in the final of the Omaha Public Schools Jamboree. Central is 2-0 while the sixth-ranked Bunnies fell to 1-1.
“I thought we made some strides since our first game,” Eagles coach Tom Lee said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
Central, which opened the season with a 52-40 win over Omaha Burke, was in control the entire way against Benson. The Eagles led 20-4 after the first quarter and the Bunnies were unable to get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Senior forwards Sylvia Smith-Gatson and Sydney McGruder led the Eagles. Smith-Gatson had 19 points and nine rebounds while McGruder had 15 points and nine rebounds.
Central was able to build its 20-point halftime lead in part because of the Bunnies’ poor shooting from the field. Benson sank just 2 of 24 shots in the first two periods — a 3-pointer by Montrese Weller and a short jumper by Octavia McGraw.
The Bunnies crept back into the game in the second half as Central was forced to go to its bench because of foul trouble. Benson closed within 54-46 with 2:30 left on a pair of Abrieal Benson free throws, but baskets by Smith-Gatson and McGruder boosted the lead back to 12.
A 26-point fourth quarter by the Bunnies helped make the final score respectable.
“We jumped out on them, but then we kind of fell into a hole,” Lee said. “We had to rely on some younger players when we got into foul trouble, and that’s when they came back on us.”
Central graduated six seniors from last year’s 29-1 squad, including All-Nebraska center Brianna Rollerson. Eight letter winners return from that squad, though some saw only limited action.
“We’re going to be relying on those girls this season,” Lee said. “I think we’ll be stronger later in the year as they gain more experience.”
The Bunnies were led by 6-foot sophomore center Kianna Ibis, who finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Weller added 11 points and Moneeka Robinson had 10.
Benson will play this season without high-scoring junior forward Zabrina Kentch, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
The Eagles return to action Friday night at Omaha Westside before their game Saturday night at Lincoln Southeast. Central defeated the Knights by one point in last year’s Class A final.
“Everyone else is making that a bigger game than we are,” Lee said. “I just want to make sure that we keep getting better.”
Benson will host Papillion-La Vista South on Friday night.
Om. Central (2-0)....................................20 14 13 17 -- 64
Om. Benson (1-1).....................................4 10 14 26 -- 54
OC: Megan Gamble 4, Paige Muhammad 4, Lia Mancuso 2, Elexis Martinez 9, Abigail Niebrugge 6, Taylor Gunter 2, LaNa'e Washington-Carson 3, Sylvia Smith-Gatson 19, Sydney McGruder 15.
OB: Kylee Askew 3, Kanesha Plater 7, Moneeka Robinson 10, Abrieal Benson 8, Octavia McGraw 2, Kianna Ibis 13, Montrese Weller 11.
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