Olivia DiNucci rarely has trouble putting the ball in the basket. The junior captain is third in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) in scoring and recorded her 1000th career point earlier this year. With Emerson trailing and its playoff hopes on the line in the second half of a GNAC matchup against Simmons, the scorer reminded the Sharks how dangerous she could be.
DiNucci received the ball in the paint and attacked the undersized Simmons defenders. The 5-foot-10 guard made the basket, drew the foul, and sank the free throw to complete the three-point play. Emerson got the ball back after a quick miss, and Olivia Connors added a jumper of her own. The flurry of scoring prompted Simmons to call a timeout.
From that point on, DiNucci took over, dropping 17 second-half points to snap the six-game losing streak and lead the Lions to a 63-50 win.
“I just saw that they were smaller, so I just tried to get inside, take advantage of it,” DiNucci said.
For a while, it seemed like it would be yet another sloppy loss for the Lions and one that would have eliminated them from playoff contention. The teams combined for 11 fouls in the first 10 minutes of play, and 22 in the first half. With 1:30 to play, both sides had reached the team limit.
“We weren’t moving our feet; we were just slapping at [the ball]. It was just a lack of effort. We were playing soft,” head coach Bill Gould said. “It’s no wonder the game was close.”
After 20 minutes of ugly basketball, the score stood at 25-24 in favor of Simmons. Emerson had shot 26.7 percent from the field. Gould said that the team initially failed to play to its strengths.
“If we play on the perimeter, we’re playing into their hands,” he said. “The first half we just don’t play hard. It was more competitive than it needed to be.”
Though DiNucci is one of the league’s best three-point shooters, the second half saw her elect to pound the ball down low, getting to the free-throw line and pulling down seven rebounds.
DiNucci has slowed down recently as opponents have keyed on her defensively. Against Mount Ida on Feb. 4, she scored 10 in 40 minutes of play, and then against Suffolk on Feb. 7, she went 2-8 for only 7 points.
A Simmons fast break layup cut the lead to three with just over four minutes to play. But the Emerson size under the basket was too much for the Sharks.
Simmons hit the team foul limit with 3:25 to play, and Connors and DiNucci continued to dominate and get to the line. On one possession, DiNucci twice collected her own rebound before finishing under the rim. Emerson free throws in the final minutes pushed the margin of victory to 12 points.
The win comes against perhaps the only team in the conference with less momentum than the Lions. Simmons entered the game in last place, having lost seven games in a row.
Despite a record that now stands at 8-16 overall and 5-7 in the conference, Emerson still has a shot at the playoffs. The Lions have one game remaining against GNAC foe Anna Maria at home Saturday afternoon. Emerson will need a win to make the post season.