WAXHAW – When Cuthbertson coach Joel Allen entered the halftime locker room up six points on a Freedom team that would undoubtedly have been heavily favored by Vegas oddsmakers, he had to like what he saw on the stat sheet.
The Cavs were dominating in every facet. They had out-rebounded a much bigger team by six, outscored them by six and were frustrating the Patriots’ three top players, holding them to seven points combined on 3-of-18 shooting.
Everything was going right, but the Cavs lead was erased on Freedom’s first three possessions of the second half and the game was tight throughout.
But time and time again when Cuthbertson needed a stop, a key rebound, a basket or to sink crucial free throws 6-foot sophomore post Maddie Dillinger delivered.
She scored 13 of her game-high 19 points in the second half, making 6-of-10 shots despite the Falcons running four players 5-10 or taller at her all game long.
But Dillinger picker her spots and always seemed to have an answer.
“I knew they were going to try to shut us down especially because they were big,” she said. “Like us, they wanted to make sure the ball didn’t go into the paint. Even though we didn’t get it in there as much as we wanted to, we got it in when we needed to and kicked it out. I was excited about that and we played really great team ball.”
Dillinger deflected any praise postgame, but Allen has seen her maturity blossom this season, and especially so in the playoffs where she’s averaging 18.4 points and six rebounds per game and has become the best player on a deep and talented team.
“In the postseason, she has been putting the ball in the basket,” Allen said. “That’s the most important thing. She’s converting all of those lay-up attempts she’s been getting. She’s starting to understand when in our offense her opportunities are going to come, and she’s not forcing it anymore. She’s not 100 percent there yet, but she’s making strides.
“I think the game is starting to slow down for her. Early in the season she had some games where she was still trying to force some stuff by trying to drive when she didn’t really have a lane. I think toward the end of the season with her shot selection and when she’s driving the ball, she’s more committed. She goes with a little more confidence like she did early on.”
Over and over Dillinger attacked the basket in the second half, asserting herself when her team most needed her.
And despite being the focal point of the defense, she never appeared to get rattled or dispute calls, although some were certainly questionable.
“I think that’s part of her maturation process,” Allen said. “She’s had moments in the past where she would get frustrated with the refs or herself, but she’s becoming more level-headed and she bounces back.”
While Dillinger has been lighting up the stat sheet, Allen can appreciate her value on the other end of the floor.
Dillinger guarded Blaikley Crooks, Freedom’s best player, and held her to 6-of-16 shooting, many of them forced, contested shots. Crooks led the team with 13 points, but got a pair of charges called on her and eventually was so frustrated she fouled out with just over three minutes to go.
“She’s been a key to our defense,” Allen said. “We put her on the team’s best player whether they’re 5-5 or 6-foot. She’s getting the toughest defensive assignments every night. I know she’s played well on offense, but her defense has been outstanding. I know the girl she guarded had 13 points, but it was a quiet 13 and she never really got going or dominated the game.”
But Dillinger has dominated and done so on both ends of the court.
Allen said she’s starting to get some mid-major Division 1 recruiting interest, but with the way she’s playing and the stage she’s helped Cuthbertson reached, that may soon change.
“She’s been playing really well for us,” Allen said. “and I think this run in the playoffs will definitely do more to put her on the map.”