FORT WALTON BEACH — Before Friday night’s District 2-6A tilt against Crestview, Fort Walton Beach coach Holly McDaniel asked to see a little aggression from her team.
Judging by the Vikings’ 35 free throw attempts in a 70-36 win, it’s safe to say the message was received.
“That’s what we’ve talked about for the past two days and I thought they delivered that tonight,” said McDaniel, whose team improved to 12-5 and 5-2 in district play.
The Vikings (12-5, 5-2) hit 23 of those attempts from the charity stripe, where Mercedez Clayborne might as well have set up camp. The 5-foot-11 junior shot 11 for 16 from the line as part of team-leading 19-point, 11-rebound effort, with seven of those boards coming on the offensive end.
“I was really proud of the way she offensively rebounded and defensively as well,” McDaniel. “She really got to the basket and didn’t settle.”
But Clayborne wasn’t the only standout on an offense that shot 47 percent from the floor and buried seven 3-pointers.
Katie O’Neal added 14 points and a team-best seven assists, Quay McNabb added 10 points, and four players ended up with seven or more points.
“You shoot well and good things happen,” McDaniel said.
On a night when the whistles dictated the game’s slow pace, Crestview (9-11, 1-6) also got to the line consistently. But the charity stripe wasn’t so charitable to the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs shot just 10 for 28, a figure that Crestview coach Kathy Combest said was unacceptable.
“We didn’t make our free throws,” she said. “We made 12 of 28 and you can’t do that in high school basketball. You have to at least shoot over 50 percent.”
While free throws dictated the night, it was 3-pointers that told the story early on. The Vikings hit three in the opening quarter, O’Neal poured in eight points and their defense forced 10 Crestview turnovers en route to a 15-8 lead.
Megan O’Neal and McNabb added a pair of treys to open the second quarter and then the Vikings expanded the lead at the free throw line.
In fact, the Vikings didn’t even knock down their first two-point shot until 12 minutes into the game, but that meant little with them making 18 trips to the line in the quarter to build a 43-22 halftime lead.
Combest, though, didn’t think the abundance of trips was warranted.
“Did you see us fouling any more than they were fouling,” she said. “I don’t think so.”
Out of the locker room, FWB came out on fire.
A 9-for-14 shooting effort mixed with holding Crestview to just five points on a 2-for-12 effort gave the Vikings a 65-27 lead headed into the fourth.
“At halftime we talked about coming out in the third quarter and not settling and taking care of business,” McDaniel said. “I told them that they couldn’t relax, the game’s not over and we can’t give them any confidence.”
From there it was all she wrote as the running clock started and FWB cruised to the commanding win.