SOUTH CHINA — The Gardiner girls basketball team needed nearly six and a half minutes to record its first point Monday afternoon. It needed the entirety of the first quarter to connect for its first field goal. It needed another three minutes to take the lead for the first time.

The Tigers made up for the slow start immediately after the halftime break.

Junior forward Bailey Poore scored a game-high 21 points and freshman Lizzy Gruber scored eight of her 10 points in the second half, allowing Gardiner (12-1) to overcome a four-point halftime deficit for a 45-29 win over Erskine Academy in a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A game at Nelson Gymnasium.

Erskine (6-6) lost for the fourth time in its last five games.

“It felt like we were stuck on ‘one’ forever,” said Gardiner coach Mike Gray, whose team didn’t make a field goal until Gruber rolled in a layup as the buzzer sounded to end the opening quarter. “Once we finally hit some shots, then it opened up a few things. I thought in the first half we just rushed too many things.”

Gardiner did everything it could to give Erskine a huge first-half advantage. The Tigers shot poorly (an even 20 percent from the floor), were out-rebounded by a 14-8 margin in the first period, got themselves into foul trouble and turned the ball over nine times in the first 16 minutes of play. Then the second half began, and Gardiner connected on a trio of 3-pointers in the first 2:56 to take the lead for good and never look back. With senior guards Jaycie Stevens and Maggie Bell dictating the pace at the defensive end, the Gardiner offense stretched its legs.

The outside shots opened things up inside for Poore and Gruber. Poore scored eight of Gardiner’s 13 first-half points to eep the Tigers in it, before she started driving with impunity in the second half for much easier buckets.

“Our heads weren’t in the game in the first half,” Poore said. “We weren’t distributing the ball well at all. Once we started moving it and taking the jump shots, we had open lanes to work with.”

“I loved the first half,” Erskine coach Bob Witts said. “All week long we worked on boxing out and keeping (Gruber) off the glass. And we did that. But in the second half we saw that zone for the first time and we just didn’t handle it.”

Erskine, led by 16 points from Jordan Linscott, committed 23 turnovers and netted only four second-half field goals. The Eagles mustered just six points in each the third and fourth quarters.

Gardiner opened the third quarter with a 16-3 run that made a 17-13 halftime deficit feel like it had occurred a lifetime before. And when the Tigers scored 11 of the first 13 points of the fourth quarter, the lead ballooned to 43-25 with no answer from the Eagles.

“We did a much better job of being patient and getting better looks (in the second half),” Gray said. “Even though our first-half defense was fine, I thought in the second half switching things up a little bit gave us some better looks for transition and rebounding than we’d had in the first half.”

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