The Rams (14-14, 10-12 MEC) were able to come away victorious from their senior day matchup against the Fairmont State Fighting Falcons (15-13, 10-12 MEC) with a 74-64 victory in the last home regular season game of the 2017-2018 season. This was also the last regular season game for the Rams seniors Morgan Arden, Tiffany McKinney, Jazmyne Howard, and Alexandra Lustig.
With the win, the Rams end the regular season with a record of 14-14, a season where they dominated the home court to the tune of a 10-3 record.
Fairmont State came out of the gate fast, determined to take the momentum of an opponent’s Senior Day. Shepherd withstood the initial rush and with five minutes to go in the first half, the Rams took the lead for the first time and never looked back.
“You know I think we all could have guessed that it was going to be a little sluggish start just [with] Senior Night, the emotions that was going into it,” Jenna Eckleberry, the head coach of the Rams, said. “Everyone wanted to make a play. We turned it over I think three out of our first four possessions. Everyone just needed to settle down, but we kind of expected that sluggish start, not because we’ve done it all year, just because of the day and what it meant to everyone and the crowd.”
In the first half the Rams shot an even 50 percent from the floor (14-of-28), as they were able to steadily build a lead over Fairmont with strong efforts from Arden, who finished with a game-high 21 points, and backcourt mate Kari Lankford, a junior guard, who had 16 points on the afternoon.
Junior guard Kayla Tibbs was the third Ram to score in double digits Saturday, adding 12 points in a solid support effort.
Lankford, along with adding 16 points, smothered the opposing guards all game long, forcing multiple backcourt violations.
The Rams were able to extend the lead they secured in the first half to as much as 20 in the fourth quarter by keeping continuous pressure on Fairmont’s interior defense.
In a game with more than a few questionable calls, Fairmont State head coach Steve
McDonald was thrown out of the game after being assessed two technical fouls for complaining about foul calls (and a lack of) by the referees from the bench during the game.
When asked about the officiating and the opposing coach being tossed in the regular season finale, Eckleberry had the following to say with a smirk.
“No comment, but I guess the other coach didn’t think it was officiated too well, because he got yanked,” Eckleberry said. “But no, I feel like you said, it was [on] both ends, so I think it was consistent.”
Shepherd made it a point to get to the basket early and often with Arden leading the charge, only attempting 12 three-point shots the entire game.
Eckleberry must have felt coming in that the Rams had a clear advantage in the paint area when preparing her game plan to combat the Falcons.
Fairmont State attempted to cut the lead late in the second half, getting the lead to as close to 10 by repeatedly intentionally fouling Rams players. With Rams able to knock down their free throws down the stretch, the clock simply ran out on the Fighting Falcons.
Postgame, the Rams seniors spoke on the emotions of it being the final regular season home game of their NCAA careers.
“It’s definitely an emotional thing, something personally I just tried to kind of set aside but then [you] have those moments where you’re like, ‘This is the last game in this sport, the last opportunity you’re gonna get to play on your home court in front of your family and friends,’ so just take it for what it is and enjoy it,” Arden said.
McKinney was happy to see that her family members that do not normally get to see her play were able to attend the game.
“I was definitely excited that a lot of my family that haven’t really seen me play in college a lot definitely came, so I was thinking about that,” McKinney said. “I really wanted to make a three-pointer because everyone else was, but that didn’t happen, but that’s ok.”
The Rams will be the eighth seed in the Mountain East Conference Tournament. Shepherd will square off against the University of Charleston Golden Eagles in the first round of the tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 2:15 p.m. in the Charleston Civic Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Vaughn Brewer is a sports Writer for The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org