The Shippensburg University women’s basketball team defeated Shepherd University 69-59 in a defensive battle last Wednesday at Heiges Field House.
The Raiders (20-8, 17-5 PSAC) and Shepherd (20-8, 14-8 PSAC) came into the game as the top two scoring teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC), but the action played out in a completely different manner. Defense took center stage as SU held Shepherd’s vaunted offense to less than 60 points, something that has only occurred three times this season.
SU head coach Kristy Trn expected the game to revolve around defense, especially after the team lost 78-71 to Shepherd previously this season.
“After we played them the first time and squandered the fourth quarter after having a 12-point lead at halftime, we watched our game on film and saw how many transition baskets we gave up and how little we communicated [on defense],” Trn said.
Shepherd shot the ball only 34.8% from the field and 19% from beyond the arc. The Raiders forced 22 turnovers due to a smothering defensive effort. SU also blocked 10 shots, the most in a game in more than 18 years.
While the Raiders did not shoot the ball well either, they held a major advantage at the free-throw line which helped them win the game. The team shot 27-of-35 from the line, led by junior Ariel Jones going 14-of-16.
The Raiders held a 43-40 lead heading into the fourth quarter, where their advantage at the free-throw line came into effect. SU outscored Shepherd 26-19 in the final quarter of action, heavily supported by making 15-of-17 attempts from the free-throw line.
“It seems at the end of the game, when they realize something is on the line, their competitiveness just kicks in,” Trn said. “That’s crucial and it’s what we always talk about — winning teams are going to hit those free throws when they have to.”
The Raiders lead NCAA Division II women’s basketball in free throws made (491). The team’s ability to both get to the line and then convert on those attempts will prove to be an important asset heading into the PSAC tournament.
Shippensburg clinched the PSAC Eastern Division title and secured a 20-win season with the win over Shepherd. It marked the first time the team has achieved each feat since the 2016-17 season.
Shippensburg was unable to maintain momentum heading into the PSAC tournament, dropping a road contest, 70-62, to Kutztown University on Saturday afternoon. Junior Destiny Jefferson led the team in points with 22.
The Raiders’ offense struggled to get anything going on Saturday, shooting just 30.2% from the field and making only one of their 18 attempts from 3-point range.
Wednesday's matchup between the Raiders and the Rams of Shepherd University proved to be a preview of what is to come later this week. The two teams will face off in the quarterfinals of the PSAC tournament on Wednesday night at Heiges Field House. Shepherd defeated Lock Haven University, 81-59, in the first round of the PSAC tournament on Monday night to advance to face the Raiders in the quarterfinals. It will be the third time the two teams have faced off this season, with the teams splitting their first two matchups during the regular season.
Shepherd presents a tough matchup for SU. The two teams split their head-to-head contests this season, and Shepherd has a trio of players averaging more than 17 points per game. Freshman Abby Beeman leads the team with 20.0 points per contest, and she offers a well-balanced scoring attack (46.7% from the field, 35.3% from 3-point range and 75.8% from the free-throw line).
Both offenses rank towards the top of the conference in scoring. Shepherd ranks second, scoring 74.7 points per game, and Shippensburg ranks third, averaging 74.1 points per game. The Rams also shoot better from 3-point range, ranking second in the PSAC (37.0%). However, the Raiders are better both defensively (ninth, 67.1 points allowed per game) and at getting to the free-throw line (first, 723 attempts).
The PSAC Quarterfinals matchup will take place at Heiges Field House on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.