By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- For just more than 34 minutes, the Shenandoah Hornets played like their season was on the line.
And in a sense, it was. Had Shenandoah beaten USA South leader N.C. Wesleyan in Shingleton Gymnasium on Tuesday night, the Hornets would have flown into the final four games of their season tied with the Bishops for first in the conference -- their hopes for a top seed in the conference tournament still very much alive.
But even with their lofty postseason dreams on the line, even after punching N.C. Wesleyan in the mouth in the game's opening minutes, Shenandoah fell 79-71 and now stands alone as the second-place team in the conference, half a game ahead of Christopher Newport.
Which isn't to say the Hornets (8-13, 5-3 USA South) don't still believe they're the class of the conference. For Mitch Dudley, who had a team-high 15 points, the loss actually reinforces the notion.
"It was a tough loss -- we could've beat them," Dudley said. "We just beat ourselves with turnovers, that's pretty much it.
"I can honestly say that I believe they're not the better team."
And Shenandoah was indeed victimized by pesky turnovers, as well as hard-to-come-by rebounds. The Hornets coughed the ball up 20 times, and though the Bishops (10-9, 6-1 USA South) likewise committed 20 turnovers, Dudley explained the Hornets' were more costly and inopportune. They came when Shenandoah most needed a basket, or when they most needed to keep momentum.
And Shenandoah had plenty of momentum to open play, blazing off on a 10-2 run in the opening four minutes. The run was later offset in the second half, though, by a dissimilar verse of ineptitude.
Clinging to a brittle 46-42 lead, SU stumbled over a field goal-free run which lasted 5 minutes, 40 seconds. A Lenzie Adams free throw marked Shenandoah's only point of the drought; and on the other end of the floor, the Hornets gave up 14 points to the Bishops.
"The whole second half, I don't think we were moving the ball as well as we did in the first half," SU center Kevin Kline said. "I thought we made ourselves get open looks in the first half by ball movement, and I don't think we did much of that, really, in the second half."
And after spending all week emphasizing the importance of establishing a presence in the post and securing precious rebounds, Shenandoah scored 28 points in the paint -- to N.C. Wesleyan's 36 -- and nabbed only 39 rebounds to the Bishops' 47.
And in a game in which neither team's lead ballooned too far into the double-digits, the Hornets couldn't help but think that, if they hauled in a few more rebounds or committed couple fewer turnovers, perhaps they'd have a share of the conference's top spot.
The Bishops' Jarmel Arrington and Trey Drake, the latter of which Dudley said might be the best player in the USA South, led all scorers with 21 and 19 points, respectively. Shenandoah had four players score in double-digits: Mitchell, Brandon Bryan (13 points), Kline (12) and Wayne Washington (14). Shenandoah's bench was outscored 45-18, with Washington scoring all but four of the Hornets' points from the bench.
"It is very difficult to beat a good team three times," said Shenandoah assistant coach Jeff Miller, speaking on behalf of head coach Rob Harris. "I would love to see them in the [conference] tournament, I think that would be a great USA South championship game.
"I think those are the two teams that deserve it."
N.C. Wesleyan 38
The SU women, on the other hand, had all the reason in the world to celebrate; especially senior point guard Katherine Flint.
With 11:39 remaining in what eventually became an 89-38 win over N.C. Wesleyan, Flint netted the most momentous free throw of her career: her 1,000th point.
"I'm ecstatic about it," Flint said. "I think for anyone to score 1,000 points is a great achievement and I've worked hard for it so ..."
She paused for a moment, as if to choose her next few words carefully.
Finally, she caved in to the moment and flashed a smile: "I'm proud of myself."
Flint left the game minutes later, to the cheers of an appreciative crowd, and 92 career points behind classmate Alexis Hargbol. Hargbol passed the 1,000-point mark earlier in the season in a victory over Wilkes.
"[Flint] and Alexis, their careers are so intertwined," Shenandoah women's coach Michelle Guyant-Holloway said. "... It's nice to see Katie get this on the home court. She's grown a lot from her freshman year, as a player, as a point guard and understanding the game a lot more.
"It was just nice to see her be able to do that at home."
In addition to her 21 points and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, Flint also dished out seven assists Tuesday. Shenandoah junior Stephanie Holton, in only her second start of the season, scored 12 points, as did Sierra Edwards.
Shenandoah (10-7, 6-5 USA South) forced N.C. Wesleyan (0-16, 0-11 USA South) into twice as many turnovers (24) as made field goals (12), and outrebounded the Bishops 58-32.