PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — Maybe it was the rim's fault.
There may be more plausible explanations as to why the Williams women's basketball team followed its worst half of the season with one of its best in scoring a surprising and at times almost surreal 59-44 victory over Plattsburgh State in non-conference action on Tuesday evening, but on such a topsy-turvy evening, who can really say?
Of the 103 points that the two squads scored on the evening, only 30 came at the hoop across from the Cardinals' bench: 19 for the Ephs (13-2, 3-1 NESCAC) in the first half and 11 for the Cardinals (8-5, 4-2 SUNYAC). And while Eph coach Pat Manning is no conspiracy theorist, she was among those who thought that something was amiss.
"It [the rim] made a funny sound," said Manning. "When the ball hit, it was a different sound from when it hit on our end. We all said so."
Rim quality aside, both teams started slowly on offense, but the Cardinals soon leapt ahead when Tequilla Lloyd, who finished with 11 points on the evening, hit a pair of fade-away jumpers to give her side an early advantage. The Ephs attempted to answer when Ellen Cook made a pair of free throws with 16:37 remaining to cut the deficit in half, but the bulge soon expanded out again when a Brittany Marshall three-pointer sparked an early 9-2 run for the Cardinals.
The main culprit for the early deficit was some awful — though at times merely unlucky — shooting from the Ephs, who missed their first 11 attempts from the field before Grace Rehnquist recovered her own rebound and dished to Katie Litman down low to break the opening dry spell with 14:16 remaining in the half.
However, the play did little to spur the Ephs onward to bigger and better things; in fact, they continued to miss shots at a dizzying pace while the Cardinals slowly but surely padded their lead, in large part by exposing an early Eph vulnerability to the transition game. Kathleen Payne, who led the Cardinals with 13 points, proved to be the driving force behind the Cardinal fast break and at one point scored seven consecutive points for her side in a row.
By the time the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the half, the Ephs trailed by a 33-19 count after shooting only 7-of-38 in the period, including a shocking 1-12 from behind the three-point line. Nearly half of those misses came from Cook and Claire Baecher, who combined to go 0-for-17 in the game's first 20 minutes.
"It was the ugliest first half," said Manning. "A lot of the shots were in and out, so I didn't even have a lot of problems with our offense, but I thought our defense was horrendous. We had played such strong defense our last few games, and it really felt like our defense let us down. We just weren’t playing with energy and with confidence."
"We talked about that at halftime—how we had to come out with our style of defense," added Manning. "We had to set the tone."
From the moment the second half began, it was plainly evident that the Ephs were intent on doing precisely that, and they rapidly closed the gap as the shots finally began to fall. A bucket from Baecher followed by a drive from Danny Rainer to draw a foul to start the half was the first sign of many that the game’s momentum was shifting.
Still, the Ephs were down by 11 just over two minutes into the half when Cook abruptly caught fire and abruptly yanked the Ephs right back into the thick of things. A transition give-and-go between Cook and Kellie Macdonald, in which the latter made the return pass scarcely an instant after receiving the ball and while falling out of bounds, gave the Ephs their highlight of the night and left them down by just eight after Cook, who finished with 15 points to lead all scorers, finished a three-point play. Moments later, Rainer kicked the ball out to the top of the key, where a wide-open Cook received it and calmly drained her first three of night to bring the Ephs within five.
By the time eight minutes had come off the clock, Cook had scored another four by putting back her own rebound and knocking down a long two off a pretty overlap from Jen Borderud to bring Williams within a basket. Not content with merely bringing her team within range, Cook finished the comeback on a play similar to the one that began it in earnest when she took a pass from Macdonald on yet another fast break and made layup while getting fouled to set up a three-point play. With 11:25 remaining, the Ephs improbably led for the first time of the night, 37-36. They would never trail again.
Inspired by Cook's play, the rest of the Eph offense soon began chipping in to build the contest's decisive advantage. Rainer, who picked up her second double-double of the year with 14 points and 12 rebounds, scored six straight points off the Ephs, including an impressive play in the paint in which she backed once, twice, three times into marker Devona Paul before spinning away cleanly to her right and swishing the short jumper.
Ultimately, it was Baecher who put the game away with a late scoring run of her own. A conversion of a fade-away catch-and-shoot from Macdonald left the Ephs up by 10 with 4:23 remaining; two minutes and two seconds later, the pair connected once more when Baecher found herself completely unmarked under the rim and banked in an easy layup for a 55-43 lead that all but iced the outcome.
"I was thrilled with our second half," Manning said. "We hadn't been down early in a game like that [this season]. It was a gut-check, and just a real team win."
The Ephs will look to build on their strong second half on Friday when they travel east to take on No. 18 Babson. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.