A back-and-forth game gradually gravitated toward the visiting team on Tuesday night, as the SUNY New Paltz women’s basketball team used a nagging defense to defeat Oswego State, 75-66.
The Lakers (14-7, 8-6) hung tough against the conference-leading Hawks (19-2, 13-1) through the first half, as the Hawks held a slight 39-37 lead heading into halftime. The Hawks won the second half, however, with a significant edge at the foul line and the turnover category in their favor. Oswego State head coach Tracy Bruno noted that these two stat categories really hurt the Lakers.
“I think the word is frustrating,” Bruno said. “We shot well to start, but we had that stretch of turnovers which led them back into the game. We used more four-out, one-in during the second half to get back within two. I really felt like the momentum had changed and that we had a shot to win the game. We just didn’t have the answers and we didn’t make the plays defensively to win the game.”
Senior Kari Kipper and her teammates offered the sentiment that the team played better in the first half because they played loose, and once the second half began, the team tensed up in the game’s biggest moments.
“We knew [New Paltz was] a good team, and that they would go on runs, and our biggest problem was combating their runs and making runs of our own,” Kipper said. “We played very relaxed in the first half and we played with a sense of urgency in the second half, which I think may have hurt us.”
“When we got on the court (in the second half) we just couldn’t seem to get back into the offensive rhythm that we had,” Lakers senior Evelyn Josbena said. “I think we got down on ourselves a little when we would play defense for 30 seconds and (New Paltz) would miss and then get a second, and sometimes third, chance at the basket. With any good team that you give three looks at the basket too, they are bound to score.”
The Lakers began the game fast, charging to an 18-11 lead in the game’s first seven minutes. Junior Lauren Nunziato hit a pair of three-pointers over the stretch, and Kipper added five points.
Hawks senior Alex McCullough, ended the Oswego State run by earning a trip to the foul line at the 12:56 mark and making both foul shots. New Paltz would use the play to jump-start a 20-5 run that put them up 31-23 with 7:22 left in the half. Junior Alyssa Gratien hit three long-range shots during the stretch, nine of her 18 points on the night.
Oswego State closed the half out strong with a 14-8 run. The Lakers shot 58.3 percent from the field and 54.5 percent from three-point land during the first half, and out-rebounded the Hawks, 19-10, an area of concern for the Lakers throughout the season.
“Rebounding is always one of the main things we focus on everyday in practice,” Lakers junior Paula Egelston said. “Our coaches keep track of offensive rebounds given up in drills in practice so it helps us box out at all five spots. Our defense sparks our offense, so we know that we need to get good stops on defense and not allow any second shots.”
A byproduct of the very fast-paced first half for the Lakers was a large sum of turnovers. The Lakers committed 15 turnovers in the first half, en route to 22 turnovers in the game, a figure that made the tall task of competing against the conference’s top team even more strenuous.
“Their defensive intensity was great,” Bruno said. “[New Paltz] just took the ball out of our hands. And [New Paltz] turned turnovers into points very easily. They pushed pace and that was very effective for them. It would have been a different type of game if we had kept it in the half-court.”
“The amount of turnovers we had should never happen, no matter how fast of a pace we go at,” Josbena said. “We just weren’t as good with the ball as we should have been. We can have a fast pace game without all the unneeded turnovers.”
New Paltz was up by as many as ten points in the second half. The Hawks took the ten-point lead on a three-point play by Hawks senior Maliqua Fisher at the 12:26 mark. Fisher scored eight of her 16 points in the second half.
The Lakers clawed at the lead over the duration of the half, getting within two points at the 4:34 mark, but watched the Hawks pull away for the final time after Gratien hit a three-pointer with 3:34 left in the game.
The Lakers were paced on Tuesday night by Kipper and senior Meagan Stover. Kipper scored 15 points and added five rebounds and two steals, with three makes from behind the arc. Stover had a game-high 14 rebounds to go along with her 13 points, three assists and three steals.
Oswego State travels to SUNY Cortland Friday in a battle of third-place teams. The Lakers defeated the Red Dragons on Jan 26., holding Cortland to just 35 points on 27 percent shooting.