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Celebrate good times: Jackson's Meg Campbell has become unselfish leader for the Polar Bears

The senior scored a career-high 26 points in a win over Green on Wednesday

MASSILLON, Ohio - Meg Campbell tapped into her inner Steph Curry as she let the ball fly, took two hops to her left, put up three fingers, spun around twice and let out a scream.

The Jackson senior knew the moment the ball left her hands in the final seconds of the third quarter that it was going through the basket for three points to extend the Polar Bears' lead to 11 in an eventual 51-39 win over Green in a Federal League showdown Wednesday night that moved Jackson to 12-2 overall and 8-0 in league play.

It was her second 3-pointer of the third, a quarter in which she scored 12 of her game-high 26 points, which is also a new career best. 

With Jackson leading 27-24, Campbell scored the final 12 points of the quarter to help the Polar Bears pull away, culminating in that 3-pointer from the wing that led to the jump and twirl.

But don't let the celebration fool you. In typical Meg Campbell fashion, the credit for her big third quarter went straight to the other players in the white and purple home uniforms.

"At the end of third quarter, my teammates found me," Campbell said. "(Green) was rotating, trying to jump the ball and get a couple of steals on us. My guards got me some good passes and I knocked down some shots. So kudos goes to them for finding me."

And then she continued the onslaught in the fourth quarter, as a 3-pointer two minutes into the period gave her a new career-high. And then to cap the night, she deflected a Green pass and the ball hit the official before going out of bounds so she picked it up and went the distance for a layup.

Jackson led early, as Campbell scored the first eight points of the game for the Polar Bears, but Green bounced back and took control of the game in the final minutes of the first quarter. Jackson trailed by as many as 11 in the first half before getting the deficit to just three going into the half. 

That's where Campbell decided it was time to do something.

"The game was not great to start," Jackson head coach Anthony Butch said. "She comes in at halftime, and we just kind of looked at each other and she seized the moment. We have had some great ones come through here and and all the greats have that in their DNA of when we gotta go get one, get on my back, get on my shoulders, let's go."

After a 3-pointer by Ashley Lahmers tied the game and Emily Rofe scored three points to give Jackson its first lead since midway through the first quarter, Campbell took over. 

She started with a 3-pointer with 5:04 left in the third and then scored again to give Jackson a 32-24 lead. After Green split a pair of free throws, Campbell finished off a 30-second possession by driving and getting fouled and she made both free throws.

"She made that three and you could just see it start rolling," Butch said. "We got her in some good situations with some good matchups."

Green's Brooklyn Wood knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the lead to just six, but Campbell wouldn't be denied, as the final minute of the third quarter belonged to her.

First, she took advantage of a great screen set by Lexi Pizor on Green's Sydney Shocklee about 23 feet from the basket that freed up Campbell to drive to her right against the defender that switched. Once Campbell got going downhill, there was no stopping her, and she drove the lane for a right-handed layup with 49 seconds left in  the quarter.

On the ensuing Green possession, Jackson got the ball and started to run out with numbers. Lahmers was bringing the ball up left of the key and Campbell went to the right wing, where she put her arms up to let her teammate and best friend know she was open. Lahmers hit her in the shooting pocket with a perfect left-handed pass while on the move and all in one motion, Campbell caught the ball, raised up and fired for the 3-pointer before celebrating to half court.

"At halftime, coach Butch just said shots will fall if we play together as a team and work hard," Campbell said. "(In the third quarter), I just looked at him and I was just ready. I just said I knew we were getting this win. I had to pick it up as a leader, bring my team together and put on a show in the second half, the entire team did it. I'm proud of the team, we got a big win."

Her coach put it a little simpler when talking about the Tiffin University commit.

"Tonight, she just took the game over," Butch said.  

As for the celebrating, it wasn't just limited to when Campbell drained a 3-pointer. 

Late in the game, Campbell had the ball and a chance to score, but instead she fired a pass to Lahmers, who hit a 3-pointer of her own. Campbell went over to her fellow senior and celebrated that shot just as much if not more than when she made hers.

"When they're knocking down big shots and getting confidence, it boosts my energy just as much as it boosts theirs," Campbell said. "They don't even realize that. So it's fun. We're playing great basketball and hope we can continue it."

That response doesn't surprise her coach.

"They're best friends and they do everything together," Butch said. "Lahmers is just as happy when Megan scores and vice versa. The last time we played (Green), Lahmers actually was the one that kind of carried us the entire game."

In fact, this was the first time in six games that Campbell had led the Polar Bears in scoring and just the sixth time in 14 games on the season. But that isn't because Campbell doesn't have the ability to score, it's because of her willingness to do what the team needs as evidenced with her leading the team in assists nine times this season and leading overall with 4.2 assists per game.

"She is somebody coming into the season that I think from a scoring standpoint, had some high expectations of scoring," Butch said. "Everyone wants to score and she is a senior, so it is her time. And for most of the games this year, she has not been our leading scorer because she's done an unbelievable job making everybody on our team better. And it's not because Meg can't score. It's because that's not what we needed on that night."

While some players who have waited behind other greats in a program like Campbell did with the likes of Emma Dretke, Lauren Pallotta and Leena Patibandla ahead of her in past years, the 5-foot-10 senior is enjoying watching her teammates do their thing.

"It's awesome that we have different leading scorers," Campbell said. "People can't just (focus on stopping) me, they have to find my other guards and they have to stop them. Anyone can shoot and score on our team. That's what is so great about our team and I feel like that's why we're having a successful season."

But when Jackson needs a big shot, the Polar Bears know they can turn to their star, and they did just that on Dec. 23 in a home game against GlenOak. 

With the game tied in the final seconds, Madison Lepley had the ball with her back to the basket at the 3-point line at the right side of the key. Campbell rolled from the right wing, where her point guard flipped her the ball. Campbell let loose from about 27 feet and the ball hit nothing but the net as time expired to give Jackson a 46-43 win.

What made that play even more special was the time of year and that the game was being played as part of a Federal League doubleheader, where the girls and boys play on the same night, so the boys team was there and 'The Waterpark' was filled.

It also taught the team they could thrive in any environment.

"That was amazing, because it was a doubleheader so we had boys and girls and it was packed," Campbell said. "The gym was insane. We had a student section. I had all of this family in town for Christmas that I never see. It was the best feeling and I feel like that actually gave me motivation to push through and I know I could do this and my teammates could do this in front of the big crowd."

That wasn't the first game-winning shot Campbell had hit in the calendar year, however. 

During the summer in a 3-on-3 tournament played at the College of Wooster, Campbell and some of her teammates were pitted against Ellet. With the score knotted at 17, Campbell took a pass right of the key, dribbled around a screen to the left wing and knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer in the face of a defender.

That game was played against one of her AAU teammates on Ohio Xtreme, Ellet junior Caitlyn Holmes. Wednesday, she faced another pair of Xtreme teammates in Green juniors Syndey Shocklee and Jenna Slates, while Sydney's sister Brooke - also an Xtreme player - sat out with a foot injury.

"It's so much fun (to play against Xtreme players)," Campbell said with a smile after hugging her AAU teammates and their families following the game. 

During the game, her AAU teammates were close enough to hug, but they weren't there to exchange pleasantries. They were trying to slow down Campbell following her hot start.

After Campbell scored the first eight points for Jackson, Green made a defensive switch and had Shocklee and Slates guard her for the rest of the half and most of the remainder of the game. While she scored just one more point in the first half, she felt like it was a combination of them knowing her game but also her just missing shots.

"They do know me, but I couldn't finish," Campbell said. "I had to find my teammates. It was just motivation to push me up. If shots don't fall one quarter, I know the next quarter I got it. Shooter's mentality - just keep pushing through it."

And just like Campbell figured, the shots would fall. Once they did on Wednesday night, the celebration was on.

-- Ryan Isley | | @sbliveoh

(Feature photo: Jackson's Meg Campbell (No. 22) celebrates with her teammates after a win over Green on January 17, 2024. Photo credit: Ryan Isley, SBLive Sports)