Before taking on the University of Rochester at home on Dec. 12, women’s basketball head coach Dan Raymond wondered how his team would bounce back from its Dec. 11 loss to William Smith College.
He was visibly frustrated. In their game against the Herons, the Bombers had shot just 28.3 percent from the field and had pulled down a season-low 36 rebounds. Raymond speculated over whether his team would respond in a positive way.
“One of the things we’ve been looking for is for them to play together as a team,” he said. “That’s something we felt last night was so evident that we did not. We put it on them to decide how they’re going to respond. Based on last night’s performance, I had no idea what to expect.”
Despite falling 74–71 to the Yellow Jackets, 7–1, Raymond found himself pleasantly surprised. The Blue and Gold, 3–5, played what he called “the best game of the season,” against No. 21-ranked Rochester, and overcame an 11-point halftime deficit, taking the lead twice after the break.
Yellow Jacket head coach Jim Scheible was just as impressed with the Bombers’ performance, particularly in the second half.
“I give credit to Ithaca,” he said. “That’s a good team over there, and I think they found themselves a little bit in the second half. When they play fast and they shoot well. They’re very dangerous.”
The Bombers began the game on a hot streak, leading by as many as six points in the first quarter on the back of sophomore guard Jordan Beers.
After dishing the ball to junior forward Erin Ferguson for the Blue and Gold’s first basket of the game, Beers hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Blue and Gold a 5–2 lead. She followed with two free throws and two short jumpers to round out her nine-point first quarter.
Raymond said he has seen Beers become more and more of an offensive threat as the season has progressed.
“Jordan is a really smart player. She reads the floor very well,” Raymond said. “Every game she’s getting better and better. Plain and simple, she’s a playmaker.”
The Yellow Jackets responded with sophomore Alexandra Leslie, who netted eight points in the opening period. The 6’2” forward added six of her game-high seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter.
Leslie said the height advantage that the Yellow Jackets had over the Bombers was key to their victory.
“I’m taller than the other posts, so we were just able to get it in, and I was able to score,” she said. “It was all due to our guards and their passing though.”
Rochester was able to take advantage of the Blue and Gold’s size disparity in the second quarter and opened up an 11-point lead heading into halftime. The Yellow Jackets also showed range, ending the half with two consecutive three-pointers from senior guard Kelsey Hurley.
Leslie ended the first half with 16 points and 15 rebounds, but Ferguson and junior forward Shayna Gaskins were able to make the defensive adjustment in the second half, holding Rochester’s star to just nine points and six rebounds — none of which were on the offensive glass.
Raymond said his post players stifled Leslie in the second half, which contributed to the Bombers’ comeback.
“We didn’t really want to double-team because they have such good perimeter shooters,” he said. “The emphasis was on our post players to defend. I think they did a pretty good job.”
The Blue and Gold opened the second half with a 9–0 run and would outscore the Yellow Jackets in the period 24–13.
The Bombers took the lead 59–57 to open the fourth quarter on a Ferguson jumper, and the teams remained close throughout the final frame. Three free throws in the final minute of the game from Rochester sophomore guard Lauren Deming sealed the victory for the Yellow Jackets.
Scheible said Deming’s free throws were difference-makers in the outcome of the game.
“Lauren had a tough game all game, she couldn’t make a shot other than a couple of layups,” Scheible said. “For her to step up and make those free throws, I thought that was the difference.”
The Bombers had four players reach double figures in the game. Beers led with her 19 points, while junior guard Ali Ricchiuti added 16. Ferguson netted 14 while senior guard Keri Steele chipped in 10.
Regardless of the outcome, Raymond said, he now has a different outlook on the rest of the season as his team heads into winter break. After the game, he had just one word to describe his attitude.
“I feel very optimistic,” he said, “I couldn’t be happier with the way we played today. I’m really pleased with that, but when you look at last night, it’s like, ‘Why? Why can’t we replicate that?’ So it’s the consistency thing that we’re looking for right now.”
The Bombers next open Empire 8 Conference play Jan. 3, 2016 at 4 p.m. as they take on Stevens Institute of Technology at Ben Light Gymnasium.