On Thursday evening, March 1, the Shepherd Rams women’s basketball team (15-15) could not stop the dynamic and talented offense of the fifth-ranked Glenville State Pioneers (28-1), falling by a 107-76 score in the quarterfinals of the MEC Tournament in Charleston, West Virginia.
Going into this matchup, the Rams knew that they would have to be on the top of their games on both ends of the court if they were to be able to come through with the upset of the Pioneers.
For the most part offensively, the Rams held their own with the Pioneers in the first half, matching everything that the Pioneers threw at them. In the first half, the Rams made 51.4 percent of their shot attempts (19-of-37) compared to 46.2 percent shooting for the Pioneers (18-of-39).
This helped the Rams keep pace with the Pioneers, trailing only by a slim 49-47 margin at halftime.
Senior guard Morgan Arden led the Rams with 14 points at halftime by shooting an efficient percentage from the floor (6-for-11). In the first half, Arden had five turnovers, as the Pioneers were really trying to get the ball out of Arden’s hands as much as possible.
Freshman forward Sydney Clayton served as a nice inside presence for the Rams in the first half, nearly posting a double-double in the first half with her eight points and nine rebounds.
Shepherd could have potentially taken the lead heading into halftime if it took better care of the basketball. As the Pioneers have done to the Rams in their two previous meetings this season, the defensive pressure that the Pioneers were able to put on display really caused the Rams’ ball handlers all kinds of problems and making them commit errant decisions with the basketball.
By the end of the first half, the Rams had 10 turnovers that really prevented them from putting the Pioneers into a halftime deficit.
Defensively, despite allowing 49 points by halftime, the Rams held the Pioneers to just a 3-for-13 shooting display (23.1 percent) from beyond the arc. The Rams were not able to find their groove from the three-point line in the first half either, finishing the half just 2-for-10 themselves.
At times this season, the three-point shot has been a reliable and significant source of offense for the Rams, but on this particular evening against the Pioneers, the Rams could not find their stroke from beyond the arc. The Rams connected on just 18.8 percent (3-of-16) of their three-point field goal attempts for the game, something that would come back to hurt the Rams in the second half.
The Pioneers did a much better job of capitalizing off of their three-point attempts in the second half, knocking down 10 out of their 24 three-point attempts (41.67 percent) to help ward the Rams off.
No other Ram besides Arden made more than two field goal attempts in the second half, with no other Ram able to take some of the scoring pressure off of Arden.
It also did not help the Rams in that the Pioneers, with their depth and talent, kept attacking and finding ways to score against the Rams’ defense.
Senior guard Paris McLeod helped the Pioneers pull away from the Rams with 15 of her game-high 38 points in the second half. McLeod made half of her shot attempts (11-of-22) for the game and was especially effective from the three-point line, where she made four out of her six attempts in the game. She also helped in other areas for the Pioneers with her eight rebounds, four assists, and four steals as well.
Fellow senior guard Tayana Stewart served as a nice compliment to McLeod with her 16-point effort against the Rams. Freshman guard Abby Stoller assisted McLeod and Stewart in the scoring department for the Pioneers with her 12 points on the evening. Stoller additionally pulled down seven critical rebounds for the Pioneers as well, with four of them being offensive rebounds.
Once the Pioneers started playing better defense, it helped balance their efforts on the offensive end to help them stretch their lead. Ten out of the 19 field goal attempts the Pioneers made in the second half came from beyond the three-point line, assisting them in building their large lead over the Rams.
Defensively, the Pioneers held the Rams to just 29 points in the second half, a 28-point improvement from the first half of action.
Shepherd was able to keep pace with the Pioneers until about midway through the third quarter when they fell behind the Pioneers by a 64-54 score with 5:07 to play in the quarter, but the Rams could not execute very well offensively in the second half in large part due to the 16 turnovers that the team committed in the second half.
For the game, the Rams turned the ball over 26 times, leading to 30 points for the Pioneers. On the opposite side, the Rams forced the Pioneers into committing just eight turnovers, which led to just eight points for the Rams.
The Pioneers were able to find their stroke in the second half and hold off any last-minute comeback from the Rams to preserve the 107-76 victory.
Shepherd actually shot better than Glenville State (47.1 percent to 45.1 percent), but the Rams still came out on the losing end. The Rams were only able to generate 11 free throw opportunities, knocking down nine of them (81.8 percent) against the Pioneers.
Glenville State got to the free throw line much more often than Shepherd did. The Pioneers made 20 out of their 28 free throw attempts (71.4 percent).
Arden posted team-highs of 25 points and five assists in the loss to the Pioneers. Fellow senior guard Tiffany McKinney recorded seven points and six rebounds in 29 minutes of action on Thursday evening.
Clayton finished the game with a double-double with her 12-point, 12-rebound effort against the Pioneers, proving to be a hard force for the Pioneers to contain all game long. Junior guard Kari Lankford provided an overall impressive performance for the Rams with her eight points, six rebounds, and three assists.
Thursday evening’s loss ended the storied and accomplished careers of Rams seniors Arden, McKinney, forward Jazmyne Howard, and student assistant Alexandra Lustig.
Arden leaves the Rams as the all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,995 career points. Her 59 three-point makes this season are tied for the most in a single season for the Rams along with Katie Biggs in the 2011-2012 season. The 152 career three-pointers made in her career are the second most in school history. Arden’s 393 career assists are the fourth-most by a Rams’ player ever. She also posted 20 points or more in 20 different games this season.
Following the game, the head coach of the Rams, Jenna Eckleberry, via text messages, expressed nothing but positive comments about her senior class in terms of what impact they have had on her and the Shepherd basketball program.
“[T]the seniors have done so much for the program,” Eckleberry explained. “They started with me four years ago. We have had a great journey and will take away many great memories from their career[s]. I will be forever grateful for everything they did for me over the years.”
Eckleberry also addressed what areas of the game she felt the team played particularly well in this season and where the team can improve heading into next season.
“We finished the season strong,” Eckleberry said. “We got better and made a run at the right time. We stayed together as a team and each player improved individually. I am very proud of this team and the year we had. At the same time, I hope we learn to take defeat and turn it into motivation and [are] always competing to get better. Don’t be complacent with where they [we] are. Hope to build on the way we finished and carry it into next year.”
Eckleberry and the Rams will have until this coming November to work on improving in all of these areas.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org