The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team used a balanced attack to win two crucial games against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) opponents this past week.
The Raiders opened up the week with a 79–52 win over Cheyney University (5-21, 3-17 PSAC) on Wednesday. Freshman guard Ariel Jones’ 32 points, six rebounds, a career-high six assists, two blocks and four steals led SU to its fifth conference win of the season. This was Jones’ fifth 30-point game this season, as she continues to lead the team in scoring through her freshman year at 21.7 points per game.
In addition to the dominant effort by Jones, three other Raiders scored in double figures. Senior forward Kristin McGeough added 11 points, six rebounds, one steal and two blocks. Senior guard Victoria Blackburn also stepped in and added a little bit of everything, totaling 11 points, seven assists, two blocks and two steals.
Freshman forward Kryshell Gordy also put together a noticeable performance. Gordy posted her third double-double of the season, totaling 10 points and 12 rebounds. Gordy is fifth in the PSAC in rebounding, averaging 8.2 rebounds per game.
There are never easy wins, but SU took a 10-point lead after the first quarter and proceeded to never give it up.
Wednesday’s win over Cheyney was big in the standings for SU, which moved into a tie for sixth place in the PSAC Eastern Division with Mansfield University (7-19, 5-15 PSAC).
Saturday’s game at Heiges Field House had massive playoff implications as SU and Mansfield, tied for the sixth playoff spot in the PSAC Eastern Division, squared off against each other.
On “Play With Hart” Day on SU’s campus, the Raiders were able to gain a pivotal victory over Mansfield, 72–63.
From the start of the game, things were defensive and testy between the two teams. The game was a back-and-forth affair throughout the first quarter, as neither team was able to get much going offensively. Shippensburg was shooting 0-for-5 from 3-point range while Mansfield was shooting 1-for-5 from beyond the arc. The game was tied at 14 heading into the second quarter.
The back-and-forth style continued into the second quarter of play before Benzel’s mid-range jumper made it 26–24 Shippensburg with 3:34 remaining. On their next possession, Blackburn converted a one-and-one that widened the lead to 29–24. Mansfield fought back to tie the game up late in the quarter, but Benzel made a key 3-pointer at the end of the first half to give SU a three-point lead heading into halftime.
Benzel came into the game averaging 6.2 points per game. She exceeded her average in the first half, totaling nine crucial points and adding the ability to score from outside the paint.
It did not take long into the second half for the Raiders to increase their three-point lead. Just over three minutes into the third quarter, Jones made a layup while getting fouled, but missed the free throw to increase SU’s lead to 39–32. The Raiders held onto the lead for the rest of the third quarter, outscoring Mansfield 18–13 in the quarter and holding a 49-41 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Early in the fourth quarter, SU got into foul trouble. Both Jones and Blackburn had to exit the game with four fouls, leaving the door open for Mansfield to make a comeback. However, freshman guard Kasey Engle stepped in and made some timely shots to help SU hold the lead. With just under four minutes remaining, a 3-pointer from Benzel sealed the game and gave SU a 65–54 lead.
The Raiders’ victory over Mansfield was huge in the PSAC standings. SU now sits alone in sixth place in the PSAC Eastern Division due to Saturday’s win over Mansfield. SU holds a one-game advantage over Mansfield in conference records with two games to play.
In the win, Jones scored 19 points and broke the school record for most points in a season by a freshman. She used her ability to get to the free-throw line, making 8-of-9 attempts on Saturday, to help her get to this point.
Other notable performances came from Benzel, who tied her career high with 14 points. She made key 3-pointers throughout the game to help SU win the game.
Kasey Engle added nine points, including five in the fourth quarter. The bench scoring helped SU to its sixth conference win, as Benzel and freshman Jazzie Orth combined for 24 points off the bench.
“I thought it was great that Lili came in and knocked down a few shots when we desperately needed some points on the board,” coach Kristy Trn said. “I thought Jazzie Orth did a great job coming in as well, making some moves to the basket, getting some key defensive rebounds for us. This is the type of team we knew we were going to have to have different people step up on different nights and it’s nice to start to see that happen now.”
The Raiders (7-19, 6-14 PSAC) are currently in the race for a playoff berth in the PSAC Tournament. Their next game is on Wednesday at home against Bloomsburg University (11-15, 8-12 PSAC).