The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team accomplished what it has not been able to do for the past two seasons: Winning its opening game of the season.
Players all throughout the Raiders’ roster gave big efforts as the team began the season with a pair of wins in this weekend’s Conference Challenge exhibition tournament.
Junior Destiny Jefferson, a transfer from Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) rival West Chester University, played a big role in both victories, although she did it in two completely different ways.
In Friday’s season opening 88-58 victory over Wheeling University, she showcased her ability to facilitate the offense. She finished with four points, but made her mark on the game by dishing out a career-high 11 assists and grabbing six rebounds.
On Saturday, she showed up more as a scorer when she finished with 21 points in the Raiders’ 80-68 win over Frostburg State University.
“Today, the team struggled a little bit offensively and she [Destiny] has that instinct and ability to then go ahead and make the shots she needs to make,” coach Kristy Trn said.
Jefferson, through the first two games of the season, is averaging 12.5 points, 6.5 assists and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Bringing in a player like Jefferson has paid early dividends for the Raiders this season. Having a natural facilitator allows the team’s leading scorer Ariel Jones to play her better position, shooting guard. The ability to have a backcourt consisting of Jefferson and Jones will make the Raiders’ offense much harder to defend.
“We have Destiny and Ariel, who are both speedy, dynamic players,” Trn said. “To be able to have those two play side-by-side gives us a lot more athleticism and speed out on the floor.”
Jones is averaging 28.5 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game so far this season. Her efforts in the Conference Challenge earned her the 2019 Conference Challenge MVP.
The Raiders received a balanced effort in their win over Wheeling. Jones scored a game-high 32 points and sophomores Aunbrielle Green and Lauren Pettis finished with double-doubles.
Trn emphasized coming out and playing with intensity to begin the season, and the Raiders responded by opening their season with a 10-0 run and being up by as much as 35 points against Wheeling.
Saturday’s game against Frostburg State was more physical, and the Raiders struggled for much of the first half of the game.
The same intensity the Raiders came out with against Wheeling was lacking early in the game against Frostburg State. SU went into halftime down 34-32.
Coach Trn spoke after the game about both the team’s play in the first half, specifically the team’s lack of intensity to begin the game.
“I don’t think we started off well offensively or defensively. I felt like our team came out flat in the second game of the year; not really excited to get out on the floor,” Trn said. “Fortunately, halfway through the third quarter we were able to get some things going offensively and that ignited the intensity on the defensive side of the ball as well.”
Trn also went on to talk about how a lack of intensity and emotion has been one of the team’s biggest problems over the previous two seasons.
“This has been a problem for the team in the last two seasons: Having the ability to consistently come in and raise your level of play to where it needs to be on game day. We need to make some adjustments in our practice that will hopefully then lead to some adjustments in the game of being able to come out and be ready to go from the start.”
The Raiders turned things around midway through the third quarter and went on to win by double digits. The team began the fourth quarter on a 14-6 run, finishing the final quarter shooting 61%. Jones, who finished with 25 points, scored 18 points in the final quarter to lead the team to their second win of the season.
One of the things the Raiders struggled with in the first half was crashing the glass and preventing Frostburg State from grabbing offensive rebounds. They came out in the second half with a plan to combat Frostburg State’s physicality.
“I think it was a combination of we started to hit some shots and we started to be aggressive in getting to the basket and to the free-throw line,” Trn said when asked about the adjustments the team made at halftime.
“We also did a much better job of keeping Frostburg off the offensive glass. We gave up way too many offensive rebounds in the first half. I think we did a much better job of getting the ball inside, facing up and really attacking the rim ourselves to take advantage of our size on offense.”
The Raiders finished with 33 attempts from the free-throw line, making their attempts at a 73% clip.
Up next for the Raiders is a non-conference road game against West Virginia Wesleyan University on Saturday at 2 p.m.