SHEPHERDSTOWN — Even after college basketball teams maneuver through a near-even first half, neither has any real advantage. And then comes the first five minutes of the second half.
Coaches realize the importance of the first minutes of the second half. The tempo can change. The flow can be much different. Or early-half fouls can alter the game’s complexion.
After Shepherd and first-place West Liberty were tied at the half of their women’s game, the Hilltoppers of Coach Lynn Ullom moved to a quick six-point lead that would hold up against anything the Lady Rams had left.
West Liberty’s 94-86 win kept it in the lead for the WVIAC regular season’s last championship.
Shepherd arrived late from its dressing room to begin the last half. It didn’t warm up, didn’t take any shots before the second half began.
Hillary Southworth, an effective transfer from NCAA Division I Appalachian State, had already counted 17 points. She used her quickness and take-charge confidence to score another 17 points in the second half as West Liberty confirmed its first-few-minutes-of-the-half lead.
The two teams traded turnovers and erratic shooting as West Liberty maintained its slight advantage. Shepherd’s turnovers were more in number.
Hampered throughout by fouls charged against Gabby Flinchum, Rachel Johnson, and Priscella Moseh, Shepherd had too-few solutions. And just one effective reserve in Kristina Prange when those three were all removed in the first half when tagged with their second foul.
It was Flinchum’s removal that was particularly harmful. She played only five minutes in the first half. In her 12 minutes in the second half, she became “Point-A-Minute” Flinchum with her 11 points.
With 16:20 left, Flinchum had a third personal foul. With 10:19 remaining, she was whistled for her fourth foul and left the game.
Even with Emily Daniel offering a Shepherd-high 19 points, the Lady Rams badly needed Flinchum’s inside scoring presence to win. But she sat out 23 minutes and Shepherd lost.
Rachel Johnson, who had repeatedly pumped life into Shepherd’s first-half offense with 10 points, drove through the lane to get the Lady Rams even at 80-80.
West Liberty had the next three points. And then it always managed to get to the foul line.
Southworth was 7-for-10 from the foul line and the team was a prosperous 28-for-36 in maintaining its lead.
The ingredients responsible for West Liberty’s conference win were (1) Southworth’s many-faceted excellence (2) the first five minutes of the second half (3) its 28-for-36 showing from the foul line and (4) Flinchum’s extended absence from the Shepherd lineup.