On Saturday afternoon, Jan. 6, the Shepherd Rams women’s basketball team (8-6, 4-4 MEC) won at home in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, by a 65-53 score over the visiting UVa-Wise Cavaliers (2-11, 1-7 MEC). The win, which was the second in a row for the Rams, came as a result of a superb defensive effort by Shepherd.
The most points that Shepherd allowed in a quarter was 18, which happened in the second quarter. The Cavaliers got off to a bad start by scoring just nine points in the first quarter, and 13 points in both the third and fourth quarters of play.
Shepherd’s defense held UVa-Wise to just 18 made shots and 37.5 percent shooting (18-48) for the game. The Cavaliers did not shoot particularly well from three-point range either, as the team shot just 20 percent (2-10) in this department.
The free throw line was one of the Cavaliers’ more reliable sources of offense on the afternoon. Out of 17 free throw attempts the Cavaliers took, they were able to make 15 of them (88.2 percent).
Turnovers really hindered the offensive flow of the Cavaliers, however, as the Rams’ defense helped force the Cavaliers into 26 turnovers that led to 21 points.
After the game, the head coach of the Rams, Jenna Eckleberry, via text messages, described what her team did so well defensively to force the Cavaliers into all of these turnovers.
“[O]one of our goals for the game was to have a turnover differential of [plus] 10 in favor of us,” Eckleberry explained. “I think we have figured out how to guard players and what they like to do and force them to do something else. We also doubled ball screens that led us to be the aggressors and forced turnovers.”
Even with Shepherd’s strong defensive showing, the Cavaliers put on an even more impressive defensive performance in the first half that helped them take a 27-25 lead at halftime. The suffocating Cavaliers’ defense held the Rams to a 32.14 percent (9-28) shooting percentage in the first half.
Rams sophomore guard Lauren Reed did everything she could to help give the Rams’ offense some life when it needed it most in the first half. Reed made three of the Rams’ four three-pointers in the first half to help keep the Rams in the game.
On the afternoon, Reed finished with 12 points by making four out of her six three-point attempts.
Following the game, via text messages, Reed addressed how important it was for her to make her four three-pointers to help give the Rams a spark offensively.
“In a low[-]scoring game any points or big plays are important because they can spark the rest of the team and everyone will feed off of them,” Reed explained.
Reed did not have to do it by herself, however, as senior guard Morgan Arden also had nine first half points that came courtesy of attacking the inside of the Cavaliers’ defense and making three free throw attempts.
The Cavaliers were able to build their slim lead at halftime thanks to a concentrated effort to penetrate the inside of the Rams’ defense. Converting layup attempts served as the main source of the Cavaliers’ offensive production, as the Rams had trouble keeping them out of the painted area.
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, however, six turnovers limited their offensive output in the third quarter. Seven more turnovers would occur in the fourth quarter for the Cavaliers, who simply could not protect the basketball against the stout Rams’ defense.
On the other side, the Rams had to make some changes offensively if they wanted to find a way to win this low-scoring affair. Arden did all she could for the Rams to help out, scoring 13 of her 22 points in the second half.
Arden’s second half scoring spree came by knocking down mid-range shots and converting when she got to the free throw line. In the game, Arden made eight out of her nine free throw attempts.
The rest of the Rams were also in a good groove offensively in the second half. Several Rams attacked the basket constantly and finished off layup opportunities, while also executing their mid-range shots just as Arden did.
Shepherd built a 54-44 lead with just under five minutes to play, and was looking to deliver a knockout blow to UVa-Wise. This blow would come courtesy of the three-point shot, as Reed and senior guard Tiffany McKinney would combine to make three three-point shots on three straight possessions for Shepherd in less than a minute and a half stretch.
McKinney made the final two three-pointers in this sequence, with the second one increasing the Rams’ lead to 17 with a 63-46 score and just 3:06 left in regulation.
On a day where offense was hard to come by, Reed and McKinney’s late three-pointers all but sealed the Cavaliers’ fate on this particular afternoon.
The Rams shot just 39.0 percent (23-59), but did shoot 46.7 percent (7-15) from three-point range. From the free throw line, the Rams shot a respectable 70.6 percent (12-17), helping them earn Saturday’s win against the Cavaliers.
One advantage the Cavaliers did have was in rebounding. The Cavaliers pulled down 41 rebounds to the Rams’ 28. UVa-Wise also had 13 offensive rebounds to nine for the Rams, but this only led to a marginal 13-10 edge in second chance points for UVa-Wise.
Adalmaryz Rivera-Gomez, a junior guard, and Kalee Johnson, a redshirt-freshman guard, tied for the scoring lead for the Cavaliers with 10 points each against Shepherd. They were the only two Cavaliers to reach double figures in scoring. Rivera-Gomez also contributed four rebounds and four assists on the afternoon.
Cavaliers sophomore forward Cynita Webb was a nice presence for UVa-Wise inside, nearly posting a double-double with her eight points and 10 rebounds against the Rams. Webb had trouble taking care of the basketball, however, as she turned it over five times in the loss.
Rams junior guard Kari Lankford filled up the stat sheet once again by compiling seven points, five assists, four rebounds, and three steals. Freshman forward Sydney Clayton had a valuable outing for the Rams as well, recording nine points and eight rebounds.
Eckleberry elaborated on what halftime adjustments that she and the Rams made that led to their positive turnaround offensively in the second half.
“[W]we had better spacing on the offensive end and executed our plays much better,” Eckleberry said. “We had better shot attempts. We also got our transition offense game going.”
In four out of the past five games now, the Rams have held their opponents to under 70 points. Reed gave her thoughts on whether or not she felt that the Rams have found an identity on the defensive end of the court.
“We’ve been focusing on defense a lot in practice because when your offense is struggling you have to use defense to fuel [your offense] and create easy baskets,” Reed said.
Saturday’s win helped the Rams move into fifth place in the Mountain East Conference (MEC) standings. Charleston, West Liberty, and Wheeling Jesuit, who currently trail Shepherd in the MEC standings, all have four losses in conference play just as Shepherd does, showing the importance of every game from here on out.
The Rams will be aiming to get their third win in a row when they travel to South Euclid, Ohio, to square off against Notre Dame on Thursday, Jan. 11. The game is slated to start at 5:30 p.m.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at email@example.com