The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team defeated Shepherd University 73-57 on Wednesday night in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Quarterfinals.
The Raiders (21-8, 17-5 PSAC) led from wire-to-wire, but the game was tight throughout the opening quarter of action.
However, the Raiders’ offense exploded in the second quarter, outscoring Shepherd (21-9, 14-8 PSAC) 21-12 in the quarter. Shippensburg came into the quarter with a four-point lead and left it with a 13-point lead. Junior Ariel Jones, who finished the first half with 17 points, helped the Raiders’ offense set sail in the second quarter by making a couple of 3-pointers as well as going 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Things were not perfect for the Raiders in the first half. The team committed 15 turnovers as they struggled to both adjust to the playoff atmosphere and the press defense Shepherd began utilizing. However, SU shot the ball at a high efficiency (48.4%) in the first half, which resulted in the team still having a comfortable lead despite their struggles controlling the basketball.
Junior Destiny Jefferson, the only player on the roster with previous playoff experience, was able to calm the storm for the Raiders throughout the first half. She went into halftime with six points, six assists and only two turnovers.
“I think we struggled a little bit in the first half, but it might have been a little bit of jitters and nerves,” SU head coach Kristy Trn said. “Outside of Destiny [Jefferson], who is a transfer here, there’s nobody else on our roster that’s played in a playoff game, so I think that might have been a little start of the game jitters. But I thought we did a great job adjusting in the second half.”
The Raiders cleaned up their play in the second half, committing only seven turnovers, but the team went through multiple stretches of play where they could not buy a bucket. Despite the stretches of inefficient shooting in the second half, the Raiders continued to play with confidence on the floor.
“I think it gives us a lot of confidence. It gives us that space that we need,” Jones said when asked about the effects of building up an early lead. “Say we go on a [scoring] drought and you turn the ball over, which we had a couple of those, and they hit some big shots, when we are up by that much we know those things don’t affect us as much as they would if we were up two or up three.”
Shippensburg, after shooting the ball 48.4% from the field in the first half, shot just 30% (9 of 30) in the second half.
Shepherd went into the game ranked second in the PSAC in scoring, averaging 74.7 points per game. The Shippensburg defense, for the second time in the span of a week, held the high-powered Rams offense to under 60 points. It was the Raiders’ tough defense throughout the second half which resulted in the team still grabbing the victory despite shooting 30% from the field in the second half.
Shepherd has three players averaging over 17 points per game, and the Raiders shut down two of them on Wednesday night. Freshman Abby Beeman finished with 15 points, but she shot the ball poorly (6-of-17 from the field). Junior Marley McLaughlin finished with eight points, and junior Sydney Clayton — the only one of their top trio who still put together a good game — finished with 26 points.
The Raiders seemed to have outhustled Shepherd, especially on the boards. Shippensburg outrebounded Shepherd 49-29, which led to 15 second-chance points for the Raiders. Sophomore Lauren Pettis led the team in rebounds with 14, including seven offensive rebounds. Sophomore Aunbrielle Green added in seven rebounds to go along with 13 points, two blocks and two steals.
Once the Raiders built up a solid lead, a combination of defense and excellent efficiency from the free-throw line kept Shepherd from closing the gap. Shippensburg shot 22-of-25 (88%) from the line. Jones went a perfect 14-of-14 from the line, tying the third most free throws made in a single PSAC Tournament game. She finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and three steals.
The Raiders are one of the top free-throw shooting teams in NCAA Division II women’s basketball. Once they get a lead when they were rebounding and making their free throws at a high clip, it becomes nearly impossible for the other team to mount a successful comeback, something Shepherd experienced on Wednesday.
Shippensburg, with the win, advanced to the PSAC Semifinals. They will go on to play Gannon University (23-6, 18-4 PSAC) on Saturday at 1 p.m.
Gannon’s offense is led by sophomore Tori Obenrader. She averages 16.9 points and can score from anywhere on the floor. Behind her stands senior Chelsea Rourke, who averages 11.3 points per game and shoots 44.3% from 3-point range.
The Golden Knights are better known for their defensive prowess. Gannon gives up the third fewest points per game (60.2) in the PSAC. It will be interesting to see the high-powered Shippensburg offense (averaging 74.0 points per game) match up with Gannon’s physical defense.
The winner of this PSAC Semifinals matchup will go on to reach the finals and face the winner of IUP and East Stroudsburg’s 3:30 p.m. PSAC Semifinals contest.