By Justin Whitaker
BROWNSBURG — The Brownsburg Bulldogs knocked the Giant monkey off its back last night.
After three straight seasons of being eliminated by Ben Davis in the postseason, Brownsburg’s girls’ basketball team got its sectional redemption with a 40-39 victory.
“This is great,” Brownsburg coach Amy Brauman said. “The last few years we’ve gotten knocked out by Ben Davis and as I explained to the girls, you’re not just winning the game for this team, you’re winning this game for the past three teams that haven’t been able to beat them.”
Bulldogs senior Stephanie Mavunga connected on two go-ahead free throws with 22.8 seconds remaining to give Brownsburg the one-point advantage.
The Giants led by eight in the third quarter but were unable to hold onto the advantage.
“I thought we played as hard as we have played all year,” Ben Davis coach Joe Lentz said. “We showed a lot of heart and we put the challenge to them to be tougher than Brownsburg. Bottom line, I don’t know if we were any tougher, but they weren’t any tougher than us either. They just happened to get an extra point on the board.”
The Bulldogs had three fouls to give after the Mavunga free throws and Brauman strategically used them to help burn time on the ensuing Ben Davis inbounds plays.
With 7.2 seconds remaining, the Giants inbounded the ball and sophomore Kenisha Jones drove left just outside of the lane. Bulldogs senior Margaret Oles stayed on Jones’ hip the entire way and was able to knock the ball loose when Jones attempted a shot.
“I tried to stay with her as best as I could without fouling,” Oles said. “I had my hands up, stayed with her, had my body on her but tried not to foul.”
Brownsburg’s Lindsey Low grabbed the loose ball and was fouled with 0.8 seconds remaining. She missed the free throw, but it was not enough time for Ben Davis to do anything but give a desperation full-court heave.
The Bulldogs celebrated, but upon entering the locker room, Mavunga had a message for her team.
“I walked in there and looked all of them in the face and said, ‘Great game. This is a great victory, I know this means a lot,’” she told the Brownsburg locker room. “‘There is still one more. Yes we can celebrate, it’s a good thing we beat Ben Davis in sectionals, but we are also forgetting this isn’t the championship.’”
Brownsburg led 19-18 after a tightly-contested first half. Ben Davis started the third quarter with a purpose. The Giants went on a 10-2 run to take the eight-point lead, the largest of the game by either team.
Bulldogs senior Kayle Comer ended the run when she connected on the only Brownsburg 3-pointer of the night with 2:06 remaining in the third.
“That was big, it always gets us going when she hits a three,” Brauman said. “It always fires us up a little bit. They were playing really good defense and we couldn’t get her open.”
Mavunga scored two of her game-high 21 points as time expired in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 31-27.
With 2:45 remaining in the game, Mavunga, the North Carolina recruit, tied the score at 37-37 when sophomore Chloe Dygert found her open under the basket.
Giants freshman Taylor McDaniel made a clutch jumper to break the tie with 1:58 left in the game.
Comer was fouled with a minute remaining and connected on 1 of 2 free throws to give her 12 points on the evening and bring the Bulldogs within a point.
Oles’ play proved true to the claim in basketball that you do not have to score to make an impact on the game.
Despite not scoring a point and facing a press almost the entire game, the 5-foot-4 point guard made her presence known throughout the contest.
She took an offensive foul from Ben Davis’ Danielle Cuttino after Comer hit her 3-pointer in the third quarter to help swing momentum to Brownsburg. Also, Oles, along with Low, helped gain a jumpball from the Giants’ 6-foot senior Amber Jones with under 45 seconds remaining.
That possession swing led to Mavunga’s game-winning free throws.
“Margaret played awesome,” Brauman said. “She provides a calmness for us and so it’s almost like we have to have her on the court all the time.”
Mavunga said after the game about Oles that “she wouldn’t trade her for any point guard in the state.”
With her hustle and determination, the smallest player on the court might have had the biggest impact in last night’s Bulldogs win.
“I want this for myself, but I want it more for my team,” Oles said. “You’ve got to go after it and you’ve got to play your role. That’s what I tried to do today.”