Washington girls basketball coach Kim Barth had some simple words of wisdom delivered with a sense of urgency for her team Saturday night at halftime of a game against Pekin.

“I told our girls we’ve got to start putting the ball in the hole,” Barth said. “We couldn’t be getting better shots, but we weren’t making them. That’s not who we are.”

Washington led underdog Pekin 22-20 at halftime of the Mid-Illini Conference game in Hawkins Gym despite shooting 8-for-32 from the field including 1-for-10 on triples.

The second half was a different story for the Panthers. They were 10-for-12 from the field, 4-for-5 on three-pointers, made all seven of their free throws, and they sprinted to a 54-36 victory.

After scoring 22 points in the first half, Washington (21-5, 8-3) scored 23 points in the third quarter and pulled away to a 45-32 lead.

Barth had seen her team go cold from the field in Hawkins Gym in previous seasons, but that didn’t make her halftime pep talk Saturday less pointed.

“We’ve had problems shooting in this gym,” Barth said. “That’s all mental. This gym is different from many other places we play. It’s big, so it’s quiet. We got a road win in the Mid-Illini (Saturday), and we’ll take it.”

What Pekin coach Brett McGinnis will take from the Washington game is a strong effort from his young team (4-20, 1-9) for three quarters.

“There are no negatives for us in this game,” he said. “For example, we wanted to do a much better job of boxing out than we did (Thursday) against Canton (in a 52-35 loss). We were a thousand times better boxing out. Hopefully that will eventually become second nature.

“I told our girls if they can compete and execute like they did against a team like Washington for three quarters, then they can do that for four quarters, and we can stay with just about every team in our conference.”

Olivia Damery and Kayle Baker did the most damage for Washington in the second half Saturday, combining for 17 points. Damery finished with 13 points and Baker had 11. 

Sierra Sonnemaker led the Panthers with 15 points.

Taylor Goss had 12 points for Pekin and Lauren Juergens had seven.

The Dragons jumped to an early 10-4 lead thanks in large part to triples by Jenna Taphorn and Leah McClanahan and were in front 14-9 at the end of the quarter.

A bucket just before the halftime buzzer by Baker put Washington in front 22-20, and the Panthers never trailed again.

Pekin tied the game 29-29 on a basket by Gracie Kizer, but two free throws by Sonnemaker with 3:22 to go in the third quarter launched a stretch where the Panthers outscored the Dragons 16-3 and Washington led 45-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

Damery had two triples and Baker had one three-pointer during Washington’s late third-quarter run. Kayana Diederich contributed an old-fashioned three-point play.

GAME NOTES: Washington missed its first free throw of the game, then made 12 straight and finished 12-for-13. Pekin was 5-for-8 at the line, all in the first half. ... The Panthers outrebounded Pekin 25-15 and forced the Dragons into 18 turnovers. ... Thanks to its nearly perfect second-half shooting performance, Washington shot 41 percent from the field (18-for-44). Pekin also was at 41 percent (13-for-32) for the game. ... The Panthers ended up 6-for-17 from three-point range and Pekin was 5-for-12 after going 3-for-4 in the first quarter. ... Best quote of the night came from a Washington fan after a third-quarter free throw by the Panthers’ Sierra Sonnemaker bounced in after clanking off the front of the rim: “That was nothing but rim,” the fan said, editing the proverbial “nothing but net” comment.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.