JEFFERSON — Ainsley Howard started the game at the 3-point line, and then finished the game at the free-throw line.

The Jefferson junior scored a game-high 22 points as the Eagles defeated McFarland, 61-45, in a Rock Valley Conference game Friday night in Jefferson.

Howard scored the first nine points of the game on three shots from beyond the arc.

“Those are big time shots for her,” Jefferson head coach Mark Peterson said. “I think we’re getting comfortable playing here at home. We’re defending our home court, shooting the ball well and playing with a lot of energy and effort.”

“It was really just my teammates setting good screens,” Howard said. “That was a big part of me getting my open shots.”

With the Spartans threatening to cut it to single digits late in the game, Howard went a perfect 8 for 8 from the free-throw line the final 3 minutes, 29 seconds of the game.

Howard’s early nine points helped propel the Eagles to a 13-0 run to start the game. The Spartans wouldn’t get their first basket until the 10:44 mark in the first half.

“We brought our energy right away,” Howard said. “That really helps us.”

After Howard’s hot start, junior Josie Peterson scored 10 of her 13 points in the first half to help Jefferson to a 29-14 advantage at the break.

McFarland scored 31 points in the first half during the teams first meeting in November.

“I think our defense is a weapon,” Peterson said. “We’re not even playing at our highest level yet. We can be so much better in it.

“Our length, hustle and our determination make it a great defense.”

The Eagles led by as much as 40-20 in the second half, but the Spartans were able to cut it to 44-34 with over three minutes remaining.

However, back-to-back perfect trips from the free-throw line from Howard and two-point buckets from sophomore Aidyn Messmann and freshman Ayianna Johnson and a pair of free throws from sophomore Abby Helmink helped the Eagles to a 10-3 run from the 3:29 mark to the 1:50 mark to put Jefferson up 54-37, putting the game out of reach for McFarland.

“I think the kids are starting to believe,” Peterson said. “Even when they started to come back in the second half, we hung on, we didn’t fold under pressure.”

The win ties Jefferson with McFarland in the Rock Valley standings at 5-5. The Eagles moved to 6-5 overall with the victory.

“It’s a huge win,” Peterson said. “It’s the second half of the conference schedule. It’s a brand new season, everything is in the past. We’re starting 1-0.”

Jefferson will host Milton in a non-conference game Monday at 7:15 p.m.

JEFFERSON 61, McFARLAND 45

Spartans 14 31 — 45

Eagles 29 32 — 61

McFarland (fg ftm-fta pts) — Witt 4 4-5 15, Butler 2 0-0 4, Kirch 1 3-4 6, Lonigro 2 0-0 6, Hildebrandt 3 2-3 9, Brandt 2 0-0 5. Totals — 14 9-12 45

Jefferson — Messmann 1 0-2 2, Howard 3 13-16 22, Helmink 1 4-8, Johnson 6 1-2 13, Peterson 6 1-5, Bec 2 0-0 4. Totals — 19 19-35 61.

3-pointers — MF (Witt 3, Kirch, Lonigro 2, Hildebrandt, Brandt) 8; J (Howard 3, Helmink) 4. Total fouls — MF 25, J 15.

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