Down by five points early in the second half and in desperate need of offense last Thursday at Pana, the Vandalia girls basketball team went to a scoring option few teams possess.
It turned to its defense.
The result was a turnover-fueled 11-1 run that turned an 18-13 third-quarter deficit into a 24-19 Lady Vandals lead and - after some tense moments down the stretch - something that hasn't happened in quite a while.
"We haven't won at Pana for a long, long, long, long time," said VCHS coach Mike Butler following his team's 33-27 victory over the Lady Panthers.
"This is a big win for us tonight."
And - even more so than in any of their previous 20 victories entering the night - the Lady Vandals have their defense to thank for it.
After a Megan DeWerff 3-pointer gave Pana a five-point lead at the 6:25 mark of the third quarter, the Lady Panthers managed just one point over the next eight minutes.
In fact, Pana didn't even manage a field goal attempt over the final 6 1/2 minutes of that span, turning the ball over on 10 of 11 possessions, including eight in a row at one point.
The Lady Vandals cashed in on those turnovers more often than not, scoring nine points off Pana giveaways during that span, including two free throws by Cassie Warner late in the third quarter following one of her 10 steals, putting Vandalia up for good.
Amanda Walton had tied the game at 19-all moments before with a steal and a layup off VCHS's unrelenting press.
All told, the Lady Vandals scored 22 points off 27 Pana turnovers in their sixth-straight game holding opponents to 30 points or fewer.
"Again, defensively, we held another team under 30," Butler said. "That gives you a chance to win."
Pana didn't manage to get a shot up again until the 6:25 mark of the fourth quarter, and it didn't get another shot to fall again until DeWerff hit a 3-pointer with 4:45 to go in the game.
Still, that trifecta cut Vandalia's lead to just two points, and the game remained up for grabs until the closing seconds.
DeWerff nearly gave Pana the lead with 2 1/2 minutes to go, but her three-point attempt rattled out, allowing a driving bucket in the lane by Shelby Cearlock with 2:10 to go to give the Lady Vandals some breathing room.
Kayla Houston then came up with a steal, and Cearlock connected on two big free throws to give Vandalia a 28-22 lead with 1:32 remaining.
The pesky DeWerff kept Pana's hopes alive by hitting another 3-pointer with 1:10 to go, but Warner countered with a pair of free throws, and the Lady Vandals hit just enough free throws in the final 60 seconds to escape with the win.
Warner grabbed two more steals in the final minute to cap her points/steals double-double, as the senior led Vandalia with 12 points. She also grabbed a team-best six rebounds in an outstanding all-around effort.
Cearlock added 11 points on 4 of 4 shooting from the field and 2 of 2 shooting from the line, helping Vandalia overcome 33 percent field-goal shooting (10 of 30), 19 turnovers and 12 of 22 foul shooting (55 percent).
"I'm not quite sure what to say tonight," Butler said. "It was just one of those games where you survive.
"It was a long evening. Again, it wasn't a pretty game. It's tough when you're on the road, and we had to overcome some things tonight in the second half."
The Lady Vandals established themselves defensively from the get-go, forcing turnovers on Pana's first four possessions of the game.
The Lady Panthers went on to commit eight turnovers in the first quarter alone, and they had 12 giveaways by intermission. Still, the host team enjoyed a 13-11 halftime lead, thanks in large part to Vandalia's own ball-handling struggles.
"We turned the ball over way to much in the first half for some reason and kind of shot ourselves in the foot," said Butler, whose team finished with 12 turnovers itself.
Those ball-handling struggles continued until the midway point of the third quarter, but the Lady Vandals suddenly righted the ship - which proved to be the difference in the game.
Vandalia enjoyed a long turnover-free stretch from about the four-minute mark of the third quarter to the 5:25 mark of the fourth. Pana coughed the ball up seven times during the span. Not coincidently, the Lady Vandals outscored the Lady Panthers 7-0 during the decisive stretch.
Pana 46, Vandalia 15
Haley Wollerman scored seven points for Vandalia, but the host Lady Panthers rolled.