The Emerson women’s basketball team came into Saturday’s game against Emmanuel College with a chance to take down the incumbent Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) champs.
After having won four straight games in conference, the Lions had jumped to third in the GNAC.
But a dominating performance by the Saints showed why they are the reigning champions, as the home team won 77-55.
The Lions played from behind all day. Emmanuel won the opening tip and scored almost immediately on a crisp pass to a rolling player for a layup. The Saints jumped out to a 10-2 lead before Emerson head coach Bill Gould called a timeout.
On the ensuing play, Emerson couldn’t get the ball over midcourt. Emmanuel’s high defensive pressure forced a turnover and allowed it to score another easy layup.
The Saints played aggressive defense all game, employing a full court press and committing eight more fouls than Emerson. The intensity paid off as the Lions committed 28 turnovers on the game and were out-rebounded 43-33. Consequently, they attempted 28 fewer shots than the Saints.
“It wasn’t the press in and of itself, but our reaction to it,” Gould said. “We know how to handle a press, we just made a lot of bad decisions today. We let them play to their strengths.”
The Lions struggled to penetrate the paint all afternoon, getting forced into tough shots and bad passes.
“The pressure on the guards made it very difficult to get [the ball] to the open girl in general,” Emerson junior captain Olivia DiNucci reflected. “It was definitely frustrating.”
The turnovers allowed the Saints to score many easy baskets. Frequently, there was an unmarked Saint down court after a turnover to catch a long pass and score uncontested.
With a minute left in the first half, an Emerson foul shot cut the lead to nine. That would be as close as the Lions would get. Emmanuel scored an efficient layup on the ensuing possession, and went into half time leading 37-24.
The second half was more of the same. Emmanuel senior guard Meghan Kirwan scored 21 points, shooting 10-14 from the field to lead all scorers. Olivia Connors led Emerson with 15, and added 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double. Olivia DiNucci, who is averaging team high 19.3 points a game this season, scored just eight despite playing 37 minutes.
“They knew to take me out of the game, and when that happens, it creates other scoring opportunities for the team, but we weren’t able to recognize them,” DiNucci said.
With just over three minutes left in the game, Kirwan streaked down court, collected a pass, and scored another uncontested layup. The basket pushed the Saints lead to 24 points, the largest of the day.
The Emmanuel coach pulled his starters from the game a little over a minute later to cheers from their home crowd, and the game ended soon after with a final score of 77-55.
Emerson won’t face the four-time defending champs again this season, unless the two teams meet in the playoffs. The Lions’ record stands at 7-11 overall, 4-2 in the GNAC.
“I thought we could play them tough, keep the game close, and then have a chance to win it at the end,” Gould said. “Obviously we played awful. We can certainly beat this team, but not if we play like we did today.”
The Emerson women will play their next game at home against GNAC opponent Rivier on Jan. 26.