Even though they are only sophomores, Derby’s combination of center Kennedy Brown and guard Tor’e Alford have established themselves as the Panthers’ nucleus.
But real trouble begins for Derby opponents when a third scoring option emerges.
Freshman Sydney Nilles seized that role Tuesday, scoring 11 of her 14 points in the first quarter to spark Derby to a 61-45 victory over Salina Central.
Nilles’ four three-pointers were perfect accessories to Brown’s game-high 24 points and 17 rebounds. It allowed Derby (11-4. 5-3 AV-CTL I) to pull into a third-place tie with Central (12-3, 5-3) in the league standings.
“When we have a shooter on the outside, that makes us really hard to guard,” Derby coach Jodie Karsak said. “Sydney, man, she couldn’t miss tonight.”
Nilles finished 5 of 9 from the field and 4 of 7 from three-point range. But her early performance helped Derby shake off any lingering effect of the Panthers’ 54-42 loss at Maize on Friday.
Nilles made three baseline three-pointers in the first quarter as Derby built a 20-11 lead. She scored the Panthers’ final eight points of the quarter.
“That’s the key for them,” Salina Central coach Chris Fear said. “If they can have a third scorer step up for them like that, they’re going to be really tough to beat. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.”
Coming in on a five-game winning streak, Central’s hopes of avenging a 54-45 loss to Derby in December were quickly hindered by leading scorer Casey Knoth’s foul trouble. Knoth, who entered the game averaging 14.1 points, was called for her third foul less than four minutes into the game.
Knoth finished with seven points before fouling out.
“She’s their mojo,” Karsak said. “She makes them go. We talked about that in the locker room.
“We put an asterisk by her name and said if we can take her out somehow, they tend to sink a little bit.”
Derby stretched its lead to 32-21 at halftime as Brown scored 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds. The Panthers delivered the decisive blow with a 12-0 run over the final four minutes of the third quarter to lead 49-29.
Alford, who was averaging 10.9 points, scored just two. But she contributed several assists to Brown’s 9-of-15 shooting effort.
Derby finished 51 percent from the field (24 of 47) and limited Central to 33 percent (15 of 45).
“It was all about just getting on the same page,” Karsak said.
SALINA CENTRAL: Backes 12, Petty 3, Cain 9, Knoth 7, Mayorga 8, Cobb 6.
DERBY: Young 9, Nilles 14, Winter 4, Alford 2, Brown 24, Myers 8.