FORT WALTON BEACH – It was a good timeout.
Facing a 24-16 deficit with two minutes remaining in the first half against unbeaten Fort Walton Beach, Choctaw girls basketball coach Don Brown gathered his own team together during a stoppage in play and tried to stop the momentum built by the Vikings in a 13-3 run.
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From that point on, Choctaw’s defense stiffened, allowing just seven Viking points the rest of the game and triggering a half-ending 12-0 run that gave Choctaw the spark it needed to pull off a 43-31 win Tuesday night at FWB.
“We take pride in our defense,” said Brown. “I thought we were a little flat, letting them get some easy baskets early, but we came out after that and played well defensively.”
The Indians (13-0) did more than play well, forcing 23 FWB turnovers and holding the Vikings to just three points in the third quarter and four in the fourth.
“You can’t turn the ball over 23 times,” said Fort Walton Beach head coach Holly McDaniel, whose team dropped to 9-1 overall and 3-1 in District 1-6A. “A lot of those turnovers were unforced, but they made a lot of stops defensively. I thought we rebounded well, just couldn’t overcome 23 turnovers.”
In a game that saw both teams struggle to shoot the ball effectively, Florida State signee Brittany Brown was the only Indian to reach double digits in scoring with a game-high 17 points. Brown scored 12 of those 17 in the first half, punctuated by a long three-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer that gave Choctaw a 28-24 lead heading into the break.
That lead would remain at four points for much of the second half before the Indians pulled away in the fourth quarter. While Brown led the way in scoring, she also left her mark on the game in a number of areas. The 5-foot-7 guard posted a game-high eight steals, six rebounds and two assists.
“As guards on the team, we take defense personally,” said Brittany Brown. “We are at the top of the press, so it’s our job to force the action.”
For the Vikings, point guard Katie O’Neal led the way offensively with 11 points. With FWB trailing 16-15 in the second quarter, it was O’Neal that delivered five straight points to give the Vikings their lone lead, which grew to 24-16 on a layup by Malaya Evans.
Mercedez Clayborne added eight for the Vikings, while Evans grabbed a team-leading nine rebounds.