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Basketball: Lambert girls work to overcome Craven's absence
Lambert's Jaleah Greene drives to the hoop during the Longhorns' game against Grayson at Lambert High School on Dec. 5, 2017. - photo by Ben Hendren

M.E. Craven hasn’t left the Lambert girls basketball team. She stands at the head of the column of cheerleaders during pregame player introductions, exchanging high-fives of varying complexity with her teammates, and she sits on the bench with them during games. She comes to the Longhorns’ practices, even the ones in the morning before school.

But on Tuesday night, while her teammates were dressed out for their game against Grayson, Craven wore a loose gray fleece, and her right knee was strapped in a bulky black brace. She won’t play in a game this year, having injured that knee three weeks before the season, tearing her ACL and meniscus.

“With losing her so soon before the season started, we’re kind of trying to find our identity without her,” Lambert head coach Jaime Fisher said. “I feel like the girls are doing a good job of adjusting to that.”

On Tuesday, the Longhorns looked just fine. They traded the lead through much of the first half with a Grayson team that was 3-1 heading into the game, but then opened the second half on a 13-2 run and had the lead out to 20 early in the fourth quarter. The Rams surged back to get the margin within single digits, but Lambert handled the ball well enough and made enough late free throws to come away with an easy 67-47 win.

Lambert's Reagan Pasonski goes up for a shot during the Longhorns' game against Grayson on Dec. 5, 2017 at Lambert High School. - photo by Ben Hendren
The way Lambert won showed that the Longhorns haven’t changed too much with Craven’s absence. Craven, who earned first-team All-County honors last season, was particularly valuable for her motor and versatility, as she could rebound, slash to the basket and dribble through a press.

On Tuesday, Lambert beat Grayson largely because it did those things well. Point guard Summer Edwards drew defenders and dished to teammates for easy transition buckets, compiling a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and forward Jaleah Greene showed her craftiness in the low post, putting up 21 points and seven rebounds.

“We took care of the basketball better,” Fisher said of the team’s improvement after halftime. “We didn’t have as many turnovers. We finally took advantage of the holes in their press and made the right kinds of passes to get the wide-open layups we knew we could get.”

When Greene, who has undergone two ACL surgeries herself, heard that Craven would be out for the season, her thoughts mainly went to how she could help her teammate recover, rather than how the absence would affect the team.

“I understand what she’s going through and everything,” Greene said. “She always gives me advice about how to play on the court, and then I give her advice about physical therapy.”

The Longhorns aren’t trying to find an exact replacement for Craven: Rather, they’re hoping to make up for her absence by getting better with what they have.

“We’re having to have our guards focus more on taking care of the basketball,” Fisher said, “cutting through the passing lanes, looking to make the right kinds of passes, those kinds of things, instead of M.E. just breaking the press herself.”

Meanwhile, the normally soft-spoken Craven is taking new kind of role with the team.

“She hasn’t been much of a vocal leader prior to this year – she was the floor leader for us,” Fisher said. “So it’s a new role for her, where she’s having to actually speak up more, and she’s doing a great job with that.”