Rams struggle to find offense in 71-58 road loss to Fairmont State

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Shepherd junior guard Kari Lankford,(22), pictured here in Wednesday's home victory over West Virginia Wesleyan, came to play offensively, leading all players with 21 points. The rest of the Rams combined to score 37 points on what was a frustrating day offensively. (William Ransom/The Picket).

The Shepherd Rams women’s basketball team (9-9, 5-7 MEC) did not make a three-pointer and was unable to get into much of a flow offensively in its 71-58 road loss to the Fairmont State Fighting Falcons (8-9, 4-8 MEC) on Saturday afternoon, Jan. 20, in Fairmont, West Virginia. 

It was not a good afternoon for the Rams offensively, but the statistics show that the Rams did not shoot the ball that badly. For the game, the Rams connected on 41.8 percent (23-of-55) of their shots from the floor. The Rams were able to generate 15 free throw opportunities and converted on 12 of them to shoot 80 percent at the free throw line for the game. 

What really hindered the Rams’ hopes was an inability to take care of the basketball, which at times has been a large issue for the Rams to overcome this season. Against the Falcons on Saturday afternoon, the Rams did force the Falcons into 14 turnovers, but the Rams turned the ball over 21 times themselves. 

Continually turning the ball over, on the road in particular, makes it hard to generate a good offensive flow. The Rams were unable to handle the defensive pressure that the Falcons were throwing at them. 

In the first half in particular, the Rams struggled to get into a good rhythm offensively. The Rams shot just 37.5 percent (9-for-24) in a frustrating first half of action, including an 0-for-5 effort from beyond the arc.  

What helped the Rams keep the score close at halftime was their free throw shooting. In the first half, the Rams shot 80 percent (8-for-10) at the free throw line, making a great majority of their chances here count. 

In the first six plus minutes of action, however, the Rams fell behind by a 19-4 score, an unhealthy recipe for success on the road. The Rams would settle down a bit and play aggressive defense to close out the quarter, but the damage had already been done. 

Thanks to this excellent surge in defensive play, however, the Falcons’ offense would go on to stall in the second and third quarter, scoring just 28 points combined over these two periods. Defensively, the Rams were starting to figure out the Falcons’ attack and played lock down defense, helping them get back into the game. 

The Rams remained focused despite their success on the defensive end, however, because they knew that it would not matter if they could not replicate this same effort on the offensive end.  

Shepherd turned out to be correct, as the team would go on to score a combined 25 points in the second and third quarters of action themselves offensively, preventing them from retaking the lead. 

Keeping the game in a low-scoring manner seemed to be the key for the Rams, as they trailed by just 10 points after a layup by junior guard Kari Lankford in the final minute of the third quarter, which made the score just 50-40 in favor of the Falcons.  

In the fourth quarter, however, the Falcons were able to put the game away by stretching the Rams’ defense with their lethal outside and mid-range shooting.  

Senior forward Kelli Jo Harrison, sophomore guard Brooke Kurucz, and junior guard Ozge Yarga all played a hand in putting on the finishing touches and finishing off the Rams in the fourth quarter.  

Harrison posted a team-high 18 points on a 5-for-9 shooting afternoon to go along with her six rebounds, one block, and three steals. Harrison at times simply did what she wanted to offensively and defensively against the Rams. 

Kurucz shot 6-for-10 from the floor to help her finish with 15 points. Playing defense was clearly a key for Kurucz, as evidenced by her two steals on the night. 

Yarga also had two steals against the Rams to go along with her 12 points and game-high five assists.  

Shepherd freshman forward Sydney Clayton (24), pictured here in Wednesday afternoon’s home victory over West Virginia Wesleyan, and the Rams scored 36 points in the paint, but the Rams could not get the three-point shot to fall. The Rams missed all 12 of their three-point field goal attempts against the Falcons on Saturday afternoon. (William Ransom/The Picket).

Overall, it was a solid day for the Falcons offensively, as they shot 43.6 percent (24-of-55) from the floor. The Falcons did not shoot the three-point shot effectively (5-for-23) (21.7 percent), but they at least converted on a handful of their attempts compared to the Rams, who did not finish the game with any made three-point field goals. 

The Falcons were also able to generate numerous foul calls on the Rams, producing 23 attempts from the free throw line, and converting on 18 of these opportunities (78.3 percent).  

The Rams simply had no other reliable option scoring wise in the fourth quarter other than Lankford and junior guard Kayla Tibbs, who made two jump shots in the first half of the final quarter.  

Following the game, the head coach of the Rams, Jenna Eckleberry, via text messages, explained how important the hot start for the Falcons was in determining the game’s outcome. 

“[T]they came out on fire,” Eckleberry explained. “They were hitting step-back threes with hands in their faces. When you hit three straight threes it gave them so much energy and confidence.”  

Eckleberry addressed what the Falcons did to prevent the Rams from capitalizing on their three-point attempts. 

“[N]not sure if they did anything except maybe put a lid on the rim,” Eckleberry said. “I thought they were great looks [but we] just didn’t make them.” 

On an afternoon where most of the Rams could not get their shots to fall, Lankford shot an impressive 8-for-9 from the floor, finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds, both of which led all players.  

Lankford’s double-double effort would not be enough to carry the Rams to victory, however. Senior guard Morgan Arden had an off afternoon shooting wise (5-for-15) to finish with 12 points against the Falcons.  

Shepherd junior guard Kayla Tibbs shot 6-for-17 from the floor to help her finish with a noteworthy 16 points on the afternoon, but Tibbs could not find the three-point stroke like the rest of her teammates were not able, finishing 0-for-6 from beyond the arc in the game. 

Lankford, after the game, via text messages, described how she was able to get into such a good flow offensively and make nearly all of her shot attempts against the Falcons. 

“My team was able to get me the ball inside when I posted up against one of their smaller guards and gave me the opportunity to score a couple times,” Lankford explained. 

Against the Falcons, the Rams were not able to score more than 18 points in any quarter. Offensive production came at a premium for the Rams, who could not find a way to knock down shots against the Falcons’ stifling defense. 

Lankford said the key for the Falcons’ success defensively was their ability to clog the lane. 

“Fairmont played good defense overall and made it difficult for us to drive to the basket,” Lankford said.  

The Rams will aim to have a better outing offensively when they return to the court again to face West Liberty on the road on Wednesday evening, Jan. 24, at 5:30 p.m. in West Liberty, West Virginia.  

Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at abrack02@rams.shepherd.edu