By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- For a good 20 minutes and then some, it appeared that the positive vibe had carried right into the new year for Shenandoah University's women's basketball team.
Riding a four-game winning streak heading into Wednesday night's non-conference matchup against Marymount, the Hornets largely stifled the lethargic Saints in the first half.
But behind reigning Capital Athletic Conference player of the year Katelyn Fischer, Marymount (10-3) got its act together in the second half to rally and eventually pull away for a 53-42 victory.
"The past three games we've been having terrible first halves and awesome second halves," said Fischer, who tallied a game-high 20 points. "We just haven't put two halves together yet."
The second half more than made up for the first for the Saints, who sputtered to a 26-21 halftime deficit thanks largely to 11 turnovers by the break.
Shenandoah (5-7) didn't light up the scoreboard, either, but did shoot a solid 45 percent from the field in the first half. Junior guard Crystal Petrus, who tallied a team-high 11 points for the Hornets, had seven in the first half to lead SU.
"We really talked at halftime about really buckling down on defense, not letting them penetrate as much, not letting them get the handoff as much," Marymount coach Ashlee Courter said. "And also keeping a hand in [Petrus's] face because she was really looking to shoot tonight."
The Saints made their adjustments count in the second half, as Fischer attacked in the paint with dribble-drive penetration for layups or to dish off on assists. Marymount's superior size also began to wear on the Hornets, who were outrebounded 40-22. Saints senior forward Tynisha Parks finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds for a double-double as she took control of the inside. Fischer did her part on offense, and was just as troublesome on defense for the Hornets as she notched a game-high four steals.
"She really can do it all," Courter said. "She's a lot of fun to watch and she's a lot of fun to coach. Her cross-over is very hard to defend. She gets in the paint, she can finish -- she'll find the open player. We talk to her teammates about having your hands ready because even when you don't think she's going to get it to you, she's going to find you."
Despite a dismal shooting effort in the second half, both from the field and at the free-throw line, Shenandoah still led by four at 34-30 on Imani Heggins' layup with 14:06 to play. The Saints put together a 6-0 run to grab the lead, and after one last tie at 36-all they started pulling away to earn the win.
"We got cold on the offensive end," Shenandoah coach C.K. Calhoun said. "We couldn't capitalize even when we did get a stop. That energy goes down when you can't capitalize on the offensive side after you got that stop."
The Hornets shot just 28.6 percent from the field in the second half, and hit just 9 of 22 free throws for the game.
"I think we just lost momentum in the second half coming out of the locker room," Petrus said. "We just weren't ready, didn't have enough energy and weren't prepared to start the second half."
The loss was Calhoun's first against her alma mater. The first-year Hornets coach was 2-0 against Marymount as an assistant coach at Randolph-Macon against her old school, where she once teamed with Courter as part of the Saints' 2003-2004 NCAA Division III Elite Eight squad.
With nothing but Old Dominion Athletic Conference games left on the regular-season schedule starting with Saturday's road trip to Roanoke, the Hornets won't dwell on the loss to a solid opponent.
"When you have two people scoring in high double figures, when we're not scoring, that's going to be the game right there," Calhoun said. "This team, we've been winning games with our defense. So when someone scores 32 points in the second half and we held them to 21 in the first -- we know we can do that in the second half. I think today we played 27 minutes of good basketball -- good defense, energy was there. That last 13 minutes, we fizzled."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>