Shepherd senior guard Morgan Arden scored a game-high 35 points in the Shepherd Rams women’s basketball team’s (11-12, 7-10 MEC) 76-72 overtime victory on the road in Athens, West Virginia, against the Concord University Mountain Lions (11-11, 7-10 MEC) on Thursday evening, Feb. 8.
This was the fifth time this season that Arden, the Rams’ all-time leading scorer, has scored 30 points or more in a game in so far.
Both teams could not gain much traction from the other, as both sides battled back and forth throughout the contest.
The Mountain Lions were able to increase their lead to 11 with a 26-15 score about four minutes into the second quarter, but the Rams would not go away. Arden and Shepherd freshman forward Sydney Clayton did their part to help the Rams stay in the game offensively.
Shepherd would need every one of Arden’s 35 points on what was a challenging afternoon for the Rams offensively. Arden made 13 out of her 24 field goal attempts (54.17 percent), but as a team, the Rams shot just 36.5 percent (27-for-74) overall.
Clayton compiled 13 points on a decent shooting night (6-for-11) for her. She was really the only other player that the Rams could count on offensively on a consistent basis against the Mountain Lions.
Shepherd closed out the half on a 14-2 run to take a 29-28 lead at halftime. This run was fueled by Clayton and Arden offensively, as they were able find open spaces in the Moutain Lions’ defense to get high-quality shots off.
On the defensive side, the Rams displayed a lock-down defensive effort, allowing the Mountain Lions to make just one out of their final 10 shot attempts to close out the first half.
However, the Mountain Lions went on a 10-0 run of their own to start the second half, forming a nine-point lead over the Rams just under four minutes into the second half. The Rams did not score their first points of the second half until the 5:40 mark in the third quarter, when Clayton made a free throw.
It was a frustrating quarter for the Rams offensively, where they were outscored by a 17-14 margin. Arden had just four points in the quarter, but she would turn things around in the fourth quarter for the Rams with her 13-point effort.
The lead would switched several times in the final minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, as both sides continued to show that they would not go down without a fight.
Down by just one point with a 59-58 score with 1:09 left in the game, Arden earned a trip to the free throw line after being fouled by Concord junior guard Andreanna Pool.
Arden calmly sunk both free throws to give the Rams a 60-59 lead, but Concord senior guard/forward Danielle Catron countered Arden’s free throws with a made jump shot of her own to put the Mountain Lions back up by a 61-60 score with 51 seconds remaining.
Concord freshman forward Riley Fitzwater fouled Arden on the Rams’ next possession, which gave Arden two free throw opportunities. Arden concentrated and put the Rams back in the lead with a 62-61 score by making both free throw attempts with 41 seconds left, but the Mountain Lions just would not quit.
A clutch three-point play by Concord sophomore forward Madison May gave the Mountain Lions a 64-62 lead with just 24 seconds remaining. May made a layup and then was fouled on by Shepherd senior guard Tiffany McKinney, giving her the opportunity to increase the Mountain Lions’ slim lead to two.
Needing a quick answer, Arden attacked the basket and made a layup herself to tie the game at a 64-64 score with 13 seconds remaining.
Concord then called a timeout to set up a potential winning shot. May launched a jump shot, but it did not go in, sending the game in to overtime.
This missed opportunity would turn out to be costly for the Mountain Lions, as the Rams would go on to outscore them by a 12-8 margin in overtime.
In the overtime session, the Rams found success offensively from inside and out. The Rams made four out of their nine field goal attempts in overtime (44.4 percent), while the Mountain Lions went ice cold, going for 1-for-6 (16.7 percent) themselves.
The Mountain Lions did have a 72-69 lead, however, until McKinney made a three-pointer to tie the game at a 72-72 score with 1:06 left in overtime.
Then, with the clock running down, Arden delivered again for the Rams, finishing off her 35-point game by scoring a layup with 13 seconds left in overtime to put the Rams in the lead for good with a 74-72 score.
After a timeout by Concord, May had the ball in her hands with a chance to tie the game. She drove to the basket, but missed a layup, forcing the Mountain Lions to foul.
McKinney made two free throws to stretch the Rams’ lead to four with a 76-72 score with just seven seconds remaining.
Pool would miss a three-point attempt with two seconds left, cementing the Rams’ hard-fought 76-72 overtime victory.
Both McKinney and junior forward Liz Moorman made several impact plays and baskets for the Rams at critical times. All five of McKinney’s points came at a great time for the Rams in overtime. McKinney also posted three assists and two steals for the Rams.
Moorman’s statistics did not appear all too impressive (six points, four rebounds, two assists), but she and several of her other teammates made key plays for the Rams in the fourth quarter and overtime, as the head coach of the Rams, Jenna Eckleberry, would explain after the game.
Junior guard Kari Lankford had a near double-double effort with her eight points and eight rebounds to go along with her two steals for the Rams in the winning effort.
May missed a few costly shots for the Mountain Lions, but she still led her team in scoring with 21 points. She gave the Rams all they could handle with her four blocks, which tied for a game-high with Fitzwater. May posted nine rebounds as well.
Fitzwater likewise had a performance to remember for the Mountain Lions. She had a monster double-double effort with her 16 points and 14 rebounds, not to mention her impressive four-block display.
The Rams were able to overcome their deficiencies on offense thanks to a superb defensive showing. Shepherd held Concord to 35.3 percent shooting (24-of-68) and really protected the three-point line well, as the Mountain Lions made just one out of their 18 three-point attempts (5.6 percent) on the night.
Eckleberry, via text messages, explained how proud she was of the resilience of her team.
“[I]i think it was a great back and forth battle,” Eckleberry said. “I liked how we had several players make big time plays down the stretch! There were many chances for us to fold but we kept battling and stayed together.”
In second chance points, the Rams had a 15-7 advantage, something that turned out to be very important for the Rams, as Eckleberry described.
“[I]it was [is] key when you can score second chance points against any team,” Eckleberry explained. “Extra possessions in a one[-]possession game [are valuable].”
The Rams were able to win the turnover battle by a 13-12 margin, something that they typically struggle in.
In a game that could have gone either way, both teams shot fairly well at the free throw line. The Rams made 73.9 percent (17-of-23) of their free throw attempts, while the Mountain Lions did even better, shooting 85.2 percent (23-of-27) themselves.
With Thursday afternoon’s win, the Rams currently sit in ninth place in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) standings, just half a game back of Concord. Shepherd has the same conference record (7-10) as Concord and Fairmont State, the closest two teams ahead of them, and is just two games back of fourth place Urbana (11-10, 9-8 MEC).
In the event that the Rams and the Mountain Lions finish with the same conference record, the Rams would hold the tiebreaker over the Mountain Lions thanks to sweeping the head-to-head series with the Mountain Lions this season. Back on Jan. 4, the Rams were also able to take down the Mountain Lions at home in the Butcher Center by a 78-66 score.
On Saturday afternoon, the Rams will again hit the road to take on UVa-Wise in Wise, Virginia, where they will be seeking to win their third game in a row. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com