NEWTON, Mass. -- For more than 20 minutes, the door to Newton South’s locker room stay closed. Sticking to his promise to reporters, Sam Doner didn’t scream following Monday’s game, he didn’t yell.
The coach certainly enjoyed the result -- a 55-41 victory over Acton-Boxborough in a showdown of top-five teams in ESPN Boston’s MIAA girls basketball poll. But he’ll happily poke and prod the process.
“They started having too much fun,” Doner said of his players.
No, Doner isn’t a stick in the mud. Toward the end of the fourth quarter Monday, he even joked while Kendall Burton was at the foul line, tossing a set of keys in the air in a light moment with his star guard. But he drove into his players the importance of playing not 27 minutes, not 28, not even “31:59,” he said.
“It’s a 32-minute game,” Doner said.
They got it. And it’s a telling reason why the No. 3 Lions are unbeaten and enjoying an early advantage in Dual County League play.
“We have to be more serious on the court,” senior Chloe Rothman said. “We had an 18-point lead at one time, and we should have turned it into a …”
Rothman paused slightly, before -- unprompted -- saying in unison with Sophie Bikofsky “a 25-point lead.”
“Jinx,” Bikofsky quipped.
“But it went down to 11,” Rothman said. “Play all 32 minutes.”
Mind you, Newton South (11-0) never trailed and was largely never threatened thanks to birthday girl Julia Sloan-Cullen (15 points, nine rebounds) and Bikofsky (13 points, eight rebounds). But as much fun as winning is, Doner is demanding more with so much promise awaiting his Lions.
They lived up to a great deal of it against the Colonials (9-1). When their shots weren’t falling from the outside, they looked inside to Sloan-Cullen. When Bikofsky (three 3-pointers) found her stroke, Newton South was off and running, pushing its lead to 10 by halftime, 12 by the end of the third quarter and a game-high 49-31 with 4:28 to play.
With the Colonials playing primarily a zone defense, Newton South found the holes when it needed to, mostly behind Sloan-Cullen. But Doner lamented not giving her the ball more in the second half, which he put on himself.
“I think when it doesn’t work for everybody else on the team, it’s time for somebody else to step up,” Sloan-Cullen said. “It just so happened tonight my offense was there.”
Meanwhile, the Colonials struggled to find any rhythm on their end. Star junior Elizabeth Belanger scored 11 points, but six of those came in garbage time, and A-B went long stretches without any offense.
It went the final two minutes of the second, 3:12 of the third and 2:09 of the fourth without a field goal, killing any chance of carrying momentum through stoppages.
“We knew to be successful you have to go at them, and we spent a lot of time where they got us back on our heels offensively,” A-B coach Kim Landry said. “They’re going to make shots. They’re good players and they shoot the ball well, but I thought we could have been more aggressively offensively.”
The reality is Newton South didn’t give it much of a chance. Any time A-B came close, the Lions responded, putting together a 13-2 run after A-B tied it in the first quarter, and an 11-2 spurt when it sliced the deficit to single digits in the third. Playing physical interior defense, Newton South forced the Colonials into 20 turnovers, including nine in the first-quarter alone.
Defense certainly isn’t a problem, and balance -- Rothman and Burton each added 10 points -- isn’t either.
“I think we can do something,” Doner said, “but it’s up to their mindset, if they’re really matured and understanding that every game is a big game.”
And if they don’t have too much fun.
“Not too much,” Doner said.
Then, he laughed.