Senior star’s big night lifts Bull Dogs

To say Maliah Howard-Bass had an off night Tuesday night at Seymour would be a classic understatment.

The Columbus North senior, who came in averaging more than 20 points a game, was held to two. That wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big reason why the Class 4A No. 10 Bull Dogs lost by 13 points.

Howard-Bass called it the worst game of her career.

With that performance and North’s loss hanging over them, Howard-Bass and her teammates couldn’t have been happier to be able to get back on the court and try to atone for the Seymour debacle less than 48 hours later.

With the Ball State recruit scoring the team’s first 15 points and 24 for the game, the Bull Dogs got back on the winning side Thursday night with a 58-43 win at Columbus East.

Howard-Bass, who has been a little under the weather this week, didn’t waste any time making up for Tuesday. She hit a 3-pointer 17 seconds into the game, then another one in the first two minutes to give North an early 6-0 lead.

The Olympians came back to take a 12-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, but with Howard-Bass and Ashlyn Huffman doing all the scoring, the Bull Dogs outscored East 18-0 in the second quarter as part of a 23-0 run that extended into the third period.

Howard-Bass, who also grabbed seven rebounds, has been North’s go-to girl the past two years. But part of the Bull Dogs’ problem this season has been an over-reliance on her.

The need for a solid second — and third — option was never more evident than in losses to Lakota West (Ohio) and Seymour, when North scored only 43 and 44 points.

Ideally, 6-foot-4 senior Imani Guy would be that second option. But the Southern Indiana recruit has been prone to foul trouble, as was the case again Thursday when she picked up two in the game’s first four minutes and two more in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the second half. When Guy stays out of foul trouble and in the game, she can be a dominating presence inside.

One huge key to Thursday’s win was the play of senior point guard Ashlyn Huffman. Huffman, who missed the first five games while recovering from a torn ACL in the summer, played limited minutes the next four games while working her way back into top form.

Thursday, Huffman saw her most extensive action of the season, and she provided a big lift. She scored 17 points and ran the Bull Dogs offense with precision.

When North won the Class 4A state championship two years ago, it was led by high-scoring point guard Ali Patberg, who won Miss Basketball honors and was a McDonald’s All-American. But Howard-Bass and a few others played their roles to perfection, and the Bull Dogs were a force.

Last year, Howard-Bass led the way, but again, North had great role players in Huffman, Guy, Paige Littrell, Elle Williams and Emily Kim. The Bull Dogs need players who can fill the roles and leadership that Littrell, Williams and Kim left when they graduated.

Meanwhile, East showed Thursday that North won’t be in for the cakewalk it has had in the sectional the past few years. Outside of the second quarter, the Olympians outscored the Bull Dogs, and you know they’ll be anxious for a rematch come February.

Throw in an always-tough Bloomington South team, and North knows it will have to play better than it has to make another postseason run.