The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team clinched a spot in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) tournament with a pair of wins over West Chester University on Wednesday and Mansfield University on Saturday.
The Raiders’ (16-7, 13-4 PSAC) offense exploded to put up 83 points in Wednesday’s win over the Golden Rams at Heiges Field House. Juniors Ariel Jones (34 points, 5-of-9 from 3-point range) and Destiny Jefferson (22 points, 5-of-6 from 3-point range) led the way for SU.
After getting off to a slow start on the offensive end, the Raiders found themselves down 12-9 with just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter. SU appeared to be in a bit of trouble, but then Jefferson began to get hot. She finished the first quarter with seven points, two rebounds and one assist while helping to give Shippensburg an 18-14 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Raiders quickly built up a 10-point lead with 7:40 remaining in the second quarter after going on a 19-6 run which spanned back into the end of the first quarter. Jones began clicking and hitting threes from all over the court and, combined with Jefferson’s hot shooting, the Raiders effectively pulled away from West Chester.
SU shot a perfect 6-of-6 from beyond the arc in the second quarter en route to opening up what would become an insurmountable lead. Head coach Kristy Trn talked about the importance of the 3-point shot in helping the Raiders overcome their slow start.
“We started to knock down some shots from three. Once we started hitting some shots from three, I think they relaxed and it opened them up a little bit,” Trn said. “We struggled a little bit this season from the 3-point line, so once we were able to get that feeling down we were able to execute better overall.”
Shippensburg shot 10-of-16 from 3-point range against West Chester. Their effectiveness from beyond the arc was what allowed the team to continue to build up the lead throughout the second half. It was a 12-point game at halftime, and after the third quarter the Raiders’ lead ballooned to 25 points.
Wednesday night was truly dominated by the play of Jones and Jefferson, the Raiders’ potent backcourt duo. Jones, in scoring 34 points, passed Trn — who played at Shippensburg from 1989-1993 — for fifth in SU history in career points scored.
“When you look at her career over the last three years, there’s been very few games — if any at all — that she has not been one of the dominant offensive players out on the floor,” Trn said when asked about Jones passing her on SU’s all-time scoring list. “That type of consistency day in and day out, year after year, is just amazing.”
Jones is averaging 23.3 points per game over her career so far at Shippensburg. She has also finished in the top three in the PSAC in scoring, twice finishing in first, in all three of her collegiate seasons.
Jefferson, who transferred from West Chester, finished with 22 points, four rebounds and four assists. She went 5-of-6 from 3-point range, tying her career high for most made threes in a single game.
After scoring seven points in the first quarter — including one made 3-pointer — Jefferson said the rest of her offensive game opened up.
Going up against her former team, Jefferson said she played with a little extra emotion on Wednesday.
“It was very emotional — those were my old teammates — and I really look to compete when I go against them,” Jefferson said. “That’s what I really tried to do tonight.”
Two of Jefferson’s better performances this season have now come against her former team.
Wednesday night was the best performance by the Jones-Jefferson duo so far this season. The duo combined for 56 of SU’s 83 points while shooting a torrid 10-of-15 from beyond the arc.
When Jefferson transferred to Shippensburg, it allowed Jones — who had previously played point guard — to move to shooting guard while adding the all-around production Jefferson provides the Raiders. Jones after the win over West Chester talked about the transition to shooting guard as well as Jefferson’s impact on the team.
“It’s different running the two [shooting guard] — I’ve been playing the one [point guard] my whole life — but I’m really grateful that she’s here and can take over the point guard position,” Jones said. “She’s a great leader on the court and whether it’s talking to us, getting rebounds or hustling, she does everything for us.
Jefferson’s impact is illustrated by her balanced season averages. The junior point guard is averaging 14.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The Raiders rebounded well after a close loss to PSAC rival Shepherd University (17-5, 11-5 PSAC) on Jan. 29. The team is now on a three-game winning streak and two games ahead of the nearest team in the PSAC Eastern Division, which happens to be Shepherd.
Coach Trn discussed the team’s mindset coming off the loss against Shepherd as well as for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve learned from some of those mistakes. We forget about it, move on and look to the next opponent,” Trn said. “We will take it one game at a time until we see Shepherd again here at home and hopefully we can make a different result.”
Up next for the Raiders is a road matchup on Wednesday against Millersville University (7-15, 4-13 PSAC) and the PSAC’s leading scorer, Lauren Lister.