DUNLAP — A strong start by the Dunlap defense "frazzled" the Morton girls basketball team early in their Mid-Illini Conference contest on Tuesday night.
But the visiting Potters, ranked second in Class 3A, regained their composure with a strong second quarter and pulled away late for a 55-40 decision.
Morton (8-1, 3-0) remained on top of the M-I while handing the Eagles (6-2, 2-1) their first conference loss.
Tenley Dowell led the Potters with 22 points and six boards, while Josi Becker added 18 points..
The Dunlap defense caused three early Morton turnovers and jumped out to a 7-1 lead at 2:53 of the opening period on a bank shot by Ellie Sorenson. The Eagles held the Potters without a basket until Dowell hit a short jumper with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
"(Dunlap) really played an aggressive defense," Morton coach Bob Becker said. "They tried to get in the passing lanes and were all over Tenley.
"We played a little frazzled early, and that was because of Dunlap. But we settled down eventually, and actually played a pretty good game."
The Potters scored the final eight points of the first quarter to grab the lead for good, and then used a 16-10 advantage in the second quarter to build a 25-17 lead at the break.
"We started hard defensively, really taking and denying, and getting in the passing lanes," Dunlap coach Heather Cassady said. "Then it fell off in the second quarter, and the intensity wasn't quite there.
"We got in a little bit of foul trouble, and I had to put a couple of players on the bench. We had to play some young ones, and ended up with 11 turnovers in the first half, which hurt us."
Morton opened up a double-digit lead in the third quarter, but a 3-pointer by Elle Sutter near the end of the third pulled the Eagles to within 41-33 going into the final period.
After a putback by Kai Koehler, who led Dunlap with 13 points, the Eagles trailed by 41-35.
But Morton then scored the next six points and took a 47-35 advantage on a Josi Becker trey with 5:30 left.
Dunlap could have gotten closer, but missed five fourth-quarter free throws, including the front end of two one-and-bonus situations.
"It would have been a lot tighter if we would have made our free throws and just executed a little bit better," Cassady said.
The Potters pulled away by making enough free throws and getting four layups from Dowell down the stretch.
"We used a little bit of patience, made some free throws and handled the ball," Bob Becker said. "Once it got inside three minutes, it was free throw and layup time for us.
"It was a good win on the road against a potential sectional team in Dunlap."
Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or a firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.