The Shepherd Rams women’s basketball team (8-8, 4-6 MEC) lost a heartbreaker on the road in Urbana, Ohio, on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 13, to the Urbana University Blue Knights (9-5, 7-3 MEC), falling by a 79-78 score thanks to a game-winning free throw by Urbana’s Sylvia Hudson with one second remaining.
Hudson, a sophomore forward, was fouled by Rams senior guard Tiffany McKinney with the score tied at 78-78 with just one second left in regulation.
With the game in her hands, Hudson calmly made the first free throw to give the Blue Knights a 79-78 lead, but missed her second free throw attempt.
The Rams grabbed the rebound and called a quick timeout, but were unable to get a desperation shot off upon inbounding the ball, sealing the 79-78 home win for the Rams.
Down the stretch, both teams competed at tremendously high levels, as neither team showed any signs of quitting. The score was always within five points in the fourth and final quarter of action.
Both the Rams and the Blue Knights could not put the finishing touches on the other, as baskets were continually exchanged late in the game.
With the game tied at a 73-73 score with just 2:16 remaining, the Rams would go on to make five out of their next six free throw attempts.
Freshman forward Sydney Clayton and senior forward Jazmyne Howard each made both of their free throw attempts inside of two minutes to play, but not every Ram had the same level of success late at the free throw line.
Junior guard Kayla Tibbs stepped to the line with 1:06 to play after being fouled by Urbana’s Megan Beachy, a junior guard, with a chance to add to Shepherd’s slim 77-76 lead.
Tibbs made her first free throw attempt, but proceeded to miss her second attempt.
This kept the score at 78-76 in favor of Shepherd, but the Blue Knights needed just two points to tie the game.
Just fifteen seconds later, Tibbs fouled Blue Knights’ senior guard Stefanie Davis with 51 seconds left, giving the Blue Knights a chance to tie the game.
Davis exhibited great composure and sank both free throw attempts to tie the game at a 78-78 score.
Clayton would then proceed to turn the ball over on the Rams’ next possession. The Blue Knights then called a timeout to set up the potential game-winning play.
After winding the clock down, Davis attacked the basket and missed a layup attempt. Hudson, however, showed great persistence and effort by pulling down the offensive rebound.
Hudson missed her follow up attempt, but was fouled by McKinney, helping to set up what would turn out to be the game-winning free throw attempt.
The Rams had the lead throughout most of the first half, but were unable to sustain their success on both ends of the floor against the Blue Knights. Shooting was not the problem for the Rams, but keeping the Blue Knights’ shooters in check was. In the game, the Blue Knights made 46.2 percent of their shot attempts (30-of-65).
This helped Urbana build an eight-point lead with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter, but this did not damper the spirit of the Rams, who continued to fight back after blowing their early lead until the very end.
Following the game, the head coach of the Rams, Jenna Eckleberry, via text messages, commented on the resolve she saw her in team despite Saturday’s loss to Urbana.
“[W]we competed and put everything we had into the game,” Eckleberry said. “I love how we responded and worked together. We were one second or play away from being all happy instead of upset.”
The Rams did come put plus four in the turnover battle (14-10) against the Blue Knights, but finished minus four in points off of turnovers against the Blue Knights (16-12).
Urbana won the rebounding battle by a 37-33 margin. The Blue Knights grabbed 14 offensive rebounds against the Rams, leading to 13 second chance points. In comparison, the Rams had just 10 offensive rebounds themselves, but capitalized on their efforts here more than the Blue Knights did, finishing with 18 second chance points on the night.
Davis demoralized the Rams in numerous ways in the Blue Knights’ win, posting a double-double. Not only did Davis hurt the Rams with her 15 point-outing, which tied for a team-high, but she had a game-high 10 assists on the afternoon as well, helping get her teammates involved. Davis’ three steals tied with Hudson and Tibbs for the most steals in the game.
Senior forward Jazmyn Haley had an efficient shooting performance (6-for-9) against the Rams, taking some of the pressure off of Davis. This great shooting display helped Haley compile 15 points on the afternoon.
Hudson finished just behind Davis and Haley scoring wise for the Blue Knights with her 14-point performance, which also included six rebounds, the second most in the game. Contributing on the defensive end was also clearly a goal for Hudson, as she finished with two blocks and three steals against the Rams. Hudson’s two blocks led all players.
Urbana put on an impressive shooting display against Shepherd, shooting 46.2 percent (30-for-65) for the game, including an effective 5-for-13 display from three-point range (38.5 percent). Getting to the free throw line was clearly an area of focus for the Blue Knights before the game, as the team took 20 free throw attempts against the Rams, making 14 of them (70 percent).
Shepherd shot even better percentage wise (50.9 percent) (27-for-53) than Urbana did, but still came away with the loss. The Rams were not as effective from beyond the arc (4-for-11) as the Blue Knights, but still shot a reasonable percentage in this facet of the game (36.4 percent). The Rams did, however, shoot an astonishing 20-for-23 from the free throw line (87.0 percent) as a team.
Rams senior guard Morgan Arden had another remarkable performance, leading all players with 25 points on a 10-for-17 shooting effort. Arden’s eight assists in the game were second only to Davis’ 10. Posting five rebounds and two steals were other pluses for Arden as well, but her five turnovers were the most in the game by any player.
Tibbs, despite the late missed free throw, did record 16 points on a 5-for-11 shooting display from the floor. The three-point shot was working for Tibbs, who shot 3-for-6 from beyond the arc against the Blue Knights.
McKinney made all five of her free throw attempts to help her finish with 12 points on the afternoon. In her forty minutes of action, McKinney also had three rebounds, one block, and one steal.
Neither side could keep the other from scoring in the paint. The Rams feasted on the inside of the Blue Knights’ defense, registering 38 points down low. For as much success as the Rams had in the paint, however, the Blue Knights were even better, scoring 40 points themselves in the paint.
Eckleberry addressed whether all of these points scored down low were a result of defensive mistakes or better offense.
“I think it was good offense on both sides,” Eckleberry explained. “We did have some mental mistakes on defense but I thought on offense we attacked [the basket] well and went inside with the pass and dribble.”
With the loss, Shepherd has now fallen into seventh place in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) standings, one game behind West Virginia State.
On Wednesday, Jan. 17, the Rams host the West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcats at 5:30 p.m.
Eckelberry gave her thoughts on what the Rams need to work on before they take on the Bobcats.
“[We have to] [K]keep trying to get better in all aspects of the game,” Eckleberry explained. “Don’t get complacent. Do the things we are good at and can control.”
Earlier this season, on Nov. 29, Shepherd fell on the road in Buckhannon, West Virginia, by a 76-69 score to West Virginia Wesleyan.
Redemption will certainly be on the Rams’ minds when they take the court on Wednesday, not just against West Virginia Wesleyan, but for their tragic meltdown against the Blue Knights on Saturday afternoon.
Anthony Bracken is the Sports Editor of The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org