Depth is often the determining factor in most sports. Andy Hamilton, coach of the Grinnell College Pioneers, uses his bench differently from most coaches, though.
The Pioneers, at times substituting five players at a time, defeated the Stephens Stars 78-44 on Tuesday night at Stephens College.
“We play a traditional game where we play six, seven or eight players, but we’re trying to develop a ‘pressing group,’” Hamilton said. “We’ll put in five new players and let them play as hard as they can for a minute or two and then bring them out.”
With fewer than 16 minutes to play and the Pioneers (3-1) clinging to a 37-29 lead, Hamilton went to his bench and put in his pressing group of all new players.
The Pioneers were able to pull down three offensive rebounds on one possession, leading to an Emily Kolbe 3-pointer.
The Stars (1-3) immediately turned the ball over, and the Pioneers claimed a 42-29 lead on a layup with 14:49 left. Stars coach Dane Pavlovich called a timeout but couldn’t end what turned into a 13-0 Pioneers run that gave them a 50-29 lead.
“That steal off the press and the 3-pointer (to start the run) were the defining moments of the game,” Pavlovich said. “Things could have been different if we got that rebound and gone down and scored, but you have to give credit to a good team.”
Hamilton’s bench pushed the lead from eight to 21 points in the second half but also ended a key Stars’ run at the end of the first.
After an Anna Veit 3-pointer gave Grinnell a 27-8 lead with 6:02 to play in the first half, the Pioneers turned the ball over five times and failed to score until there were fewer than two minutes to play. The struggling Pioneers saw the Stars capitalize and go on a 7-0 run.
A Stars turnover from a trapping Pioneers defense, though, led to backup guard Anna Johnson’s 3-pointer to increase the Pioneer lead to 15.
Hamilton said the Pioneers lost their concentration in the first half, but he told his team at the half to continue to play hard. It listened and outscored the Stars 48-24 the final half.
“I was really pleased by what we did in the second half,” Hamilton said. “We got our feet set and shot the 3-pointer a little better, which is one of the main staples of our game plan.”
Veit, a junior, was 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in the second half and led the Pioneers with 15 points.
“(Shooting 3-pointers) is kind of specific to what she does, and we try to set her up as much as possible,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have her take anywhere from 15 to 20 3-point shots a game.”
Sara Byrne, a junior forward for the Stars, scored 15 on 7-of-14 shooting. Freshman Janee’ Jones came off the bench to score 11, but the Stars shot 35 percent from the field.
Pavlovich knows his team can play better.
“We’re starting to get looks in our offense,” he said. “We didn’t shoot a great percentage, but if we get our shots to fall, we think we’ll be dangerous.”