Women’s basketball stays alive for playoffs
Hunter O. Lyle – Sports Editor
With a chance to make the NE10 playoffs in backto-back years on the line, the women’s basketball team faced off against the College of Saint Rose, showcasing the team’s ironclad defense and coming out with a 56-46 win.
Leading up to this game, the Owls had lost eight out of their last nine games, but still had a chance to make the NE10 Tournament if they won their last two games of the season. Head coach Kate Lynch said the game plan was to take the game one possession at a time.
“[We wanted to] just take care of the little things, stay disciplined,” said Lynch. “One of the things we’ve been talking about is oneand-done, try not to give up too many offensive rebounds. Saint Rose needed this win as well to stay alive in the playoffs so, it was kind of a matter of who wanted it more.”
As the last home game, the night was also a celebration of Senior Day for the three graduating Owls — guards Imani Wheeler and Aaliyah Walker as well as forward Paula Tattari — and in a fitting manner, Wheeler came out of the gates hot.
Connecting on two shots from deep along with a fast break layup, Wheeler managed to score eight of the team’s first 10 points, while forwards Jessica Fressle, a redshirt junior helped both on the glass and defensively. Forward Alexa Kellner, a redshirt freshman, also banged home two shots from deep on a perfect 2-for-2.
“My family was here so I wanted to show out and it was my last go around,” said Wheeler. “My team knew it was my senior night so they kind of helped me find looks and get the ball, but I really just wanted to win.”
While Saint Rose was able to consistently score in the paint, the team’s turnovers — 10 in the first half — snubbed any momentum the Golden Knights might have built. Southern’s defense, which centered mostly on ripping the ball away from their opponents, lead to 15 points off fast breaks and a 31-to-25 lead.
“It’s just kind of needing to do it, to be honest,” said Lynch on the team’s success off steals and fast breaks. “They were switching up between their 2-3 and man so I said to avoid confusion, let’s just rebound and run, keep it simple, and they executed, so credit to the team.”
Coming out of the halftime break, the Owls immediately attacked on defense, with Kellner stealing the ball on the Golden Knights opening possession. Southern also kept Saint Rose at bay by forcing them along the outside of the perimeter and preventing even those shots from dropping — the Golden Knights went 0-for-6 from deep in the third.
In the fourth and final quarter of the game, Southern had 10 minutes to hold onto a six point lead, and defense lead the way.
Before this game, Wheeler lead the NE10 in both steals per game — 3.2 — and total steals — 82 — and is the only player in the NE10 to break the top 10 in those two categories within the NCAA for DII.
Between the defensive stops, fastbreak points and makes from deep, which all came from a variety of players on the Owls roster, the Golden Knights only scored nine points in the fourth, while Southern closed out the game with 13, winning 56-46.
“Confidence,” said Lynch on the main factor for the close-out fourth quarter. “There’s been games where we’ve been up double digits before, and we’ve lost that lead, so I think maybe learning from those past experiences, and knowing this game is really really important for both teams.”
Fressle lead the team in points with 19 and steals collecting four on the night. Five other players also garnered a steal during the defensive-lead win, including Kellner, who finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and two steals and Wheeler, who tallied 16 points and two steals as well. Wheeler also now stands only 16 points away from breaking 1,000 in her career.
The team now looks to play Adelphi University on Tuesday, who is ranked 10th in the nation for DII basketball, for a game that will decide whether or not the Owls get to see any post-season action.
“I think going into Adelphi is always a fun game. Obviously, they’re ranked No. 10 in the nation, but that doesn’t really mean anything,” said Fressle. “Anyone can beat anyone, and it’s really who plays 40 minutes.”
After the win on Saturday, those three seniors have all most likely played their last game at Moore Field House. Reflecting on the seniors, Lynch said she has been honored to be their coach.
“We’re just really thankful that we’ve had the opportunity. I’m especially thankful to have the opportunity to not only coach Paula [Tattari] for a year and a half, [Walker] for two years and Imani [Wheeler] for four years,” said Lynch. “They’re just amazing people, and that’s the most important part and the coolest part. They’re not only great players, but they’re great young ladies. They’re great teammates. They’re a joy to be around. They’re a lot of fun. We’re going to miss them, but hopefully I don’t have to miss them too soon.”
Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo