SU women gut out 69-64 win over Hollins in ODAC Tournament
Posted: February 19, 2013
Special to The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Down the stretch, the Shenandoah University women’s basketball team had to be mentally strong.
Facing a No. 11 seed in Hollins University that just would not go away, the No. 6-seeded Hornets had to gain some distance if they finally were going to lock down a win in the opening round of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament.
That was a lot to ask of several players that already had tired bodies from all the physical play that went on for most of Monday night’s game. The Hornets would end up having two players play the entire game, one play 38 minutes, another go 36, and a fifth play 31 minutes off the bench in place of one of the team’s best players.
But these “Iron Hornets” got it done. SU scored nine straight points over a two-minute stretch late in the game and three players reached double-digit scoring to lift the Hornets to a 69-64 win before 386 fans at Shingleton Gymnasium.
Feeding off a loud and supportive home crowd, SU (12-14) won its first-ever ODAC conference tournament game and will now advance to Thursday’s quarterfinal round to face No. 3 Virginia Wesleyan (12-4, 17-8), a team it lost to twice by double-figures during the season. Tip-off is slated for 8 p.m. at the Salem Civic Center.
“We were a little scared at first, then we realized that we all play well together as a team,” said SU sophomore forward Gabrielle Clarke, who scored a career-high 14 points to go along with six rebounds and four assists off the bench. “Definitely when it comes to defense — it’s one of our strong points. We knew we had to step it up, and I think we did.”
SU’s best moments came in the final five minutes. With the Hornets holding on to a 57-55 lead, Clarke sent the lead to four when she took a pass from senior forward Nicole Gilbertson and scored.
A free throw from Clarke made it a five-point lead before freshman guard Ashley McGhee stepped in for a steal and went three-quarters quarter to score off the Hollins' turnover.
SU coach C. K. Calhoun called for a timeout after McGhee’s bucket, and the Hornets forced yet another turnover off of Hollins’ next possession.
This time it was Clarke picking up a steal, and with the turn of the ball, SU got another two points. Clarke found sophomore forward Holly Chittenden (double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds) for a layup and-one. Chittenden added another free throw at the 2:49 mark for a 66-55 lead — SU’s largest of the game.
During its crucial run, SU forced three turnovers and Hollins had a stretch where it went without a basket from the 5:40 mark of the second half until 2:11 left to play. The first made basket left Hollins down by three. By the time it scored from the field again, it trailed by eight.
“We’ve seen in games past where it’s all a matter of runs,” Chittenden said. “It’s who makes the run at the right time, and tonight it was us. We made that [9-0] run and the defense gives us energy and feeds our offense. Then, the shots come. We won this game with defense.”
The Hornets had some turnover issues late when Hollins (9-17) stepped up its pressure. A layup by Brittany Campbell cut SU’s lead to 68-64 with 16 seconds left, but Gilbertson (eight points, nine rebounds) hit a free throw and the Hornets were able to hold on.
Calhoun admired the grit of her team and being able to stretch their conference home winning streak to eight straight. The Hornets (8-1 at home in the ODAC) will not play again this season at Shingleton, but at least they proved that they have taken a big step in showing they can compete in a high-quality conference as a first-year member.
Already with a small roster (only nine dressed for the game), the Hornets had to play the second half without freshman forward Imani Heggins (7.9 ppg, 5.3 rppg) after she twice injured her shoulder in the first half and was limited to five minutes of playing time. Chittenden even took a hard fall after she was fouled four seconds into the game, and she said afterward that she played through a sore foot because of the fall.
To be able to move on to the next round, Calhoun was left to play McGhee (seven points, four rebounds) and season-scoring leader Crystal Petrus (16 points, three 3-pointers, 7 of 8 free throws) 40 minutes, Chittenden 38, Gilbertson 36, and Clarke 31.
Afterward, Calhoun talked about the key five points she got from freshman forward Sarah Dixon (five points in 10 minutes) and she left room to praise Clarke, who had to play extended minutes for the injured Heggins.
“We don't drop off much and Gabby, she’s actually a spark for us,” Calhoun said. “She’s just been a spark all year long for us and she adds that extra length for us on defense. She can guard a guard and she can really make people work for [points].”
Clarke spread her points well, scoring seven in each half and finishing the game 6 of 7 from the field.
“She can always finish around the basket,” Calhoun said. “But stepping out, hitting those mid-range shots. Those are sometimes no-man’s land shots. A shooter’s got to step up and make them, and she made them. We as a staff have to make sure we see that quicker and who to go to.”
Clarke admitted that her coaches have been trying to get her to shoot more, and she was glad that her offensive surge made a difference to help SU move on in the playoffs.
In the first half, Hollins opened with a 4-1 run before the Hornets got baskets from Heggins and Clarke to lead for the rest of the first half. The Hornets led by as much as nine, when Chittenden’s jumper from the foul line with 9:03 left sent the SU lead to 22-13. But Hollins closed the half strong, and fought back to trail just 31-28 at the break.
Seven players scored in the first half for SU, while Hollins spent much of the game getting points from just two players. Four-time ODAC Player of the Week Jasmine Greene (51 points in two games against the Hornets) leads the conference in scoring, and she got a game-high 24 in the loss on Monday. Left-hander Lacie Forrest also caused problems at times with her 18 points. But the Hornets did well to not let any other Hollins player go off.
Hollins finished shooting 39.7 percent from the field and had seven fewer turnovers than did the Hornets. But the 9-0 swing by SU in the later minutes of the game, when Hollins did not do a very good job with its offense, would prove to be its undoing.
“We kind of forced the issue a couple times when we didn’t need to, [but] you can’t ever question the effort that they give,” Hollins coach Jim Phillips said. “Sometimes when you run off emotion, like [we] do, it get’s caught up on the offensive end. You’ve got to be able to flip the switch there a little bit.”
Both Calhoun and Chittenden are looking forward to a rematch with Virginia Wesleyan later this week. They hope this time that it really can be like a “third time’s the charm” moment, too.
“Now we got to take it on the road,” Calhoun said. “We’ll enjoy tonight, but we have to stay focused for Thursday.”
“No matter who you are, it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Chittenden said. “We’re going down there and all we’re going to do is try to play our best and to have fun. We have nothing to lose. Just like Hollins, they had nothing to lose. They were in it. We’re going to do the same thing in Salem. We’re all excited. It’s back to work now.”