By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's women's basketball team knew it needed to play sound defense against visiting Randolph College in the first round of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament on Monday evening.
Aside from a two-minute stretch to open the second half in which the Hornets saw a 12-point halftime lead evaporate in the blink of an eye, SU did just that. Shenandoah held the WildCats to a 33.9 percent (20 for 59) mark from the floor and forced 19 turnovers in a 69-51 win.
The eighth-seeded Hornets advance to play No. 1 Eastern Mennonite at Salem Civic Center on Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals. Tip off is scheduled for 1 p.m.
"I really think it started on the defensive side, making sure that we could set the tone," Hornets coach C.K. Calhoun said of Monday's win. "We know that Randolph has some really good shooters... They can score the ball, they can shoot the ball in many different ways, attacking the rim and shooting the 3."
Shenandoah (10-16), which had beaten Randolph (11-15) twice during the regular season, used an effective half-court man-to-man defense to essentially shutdown Randolph leading scorers Abigail Bullins and Emilee Dunton in the first half, as the duo combined for just two points in the opening 20 minutes.
That enabled the Hornets to steadily build a double-digit lead by halftime.
SU started the game hot from beyond the 3-point arc, as senior Crystal Petrus (16 points) and sophomore Ashley McGhee combined to hit the Hornets' first three 3-point attempts to help Shenandoah build a 17-8 lead midway through the first half.
Randolph junior Allie Druffel scored on a short jumper in the paint to cap a 6-0 WildCats run that cut the deficit to three points with 8:11 left in the half, but Shenandoah closed the half on an 11-2 run to take a 34-22 lead into halftime.
"We've got to have Abby or Emilee hitting a little bit from the outside to help open things up for us, and we didn't shoot it that well," Randolph coach Allison Nichols said. "That kind of put a little more pressure on our offense, I think."
Randolph quickly found some offensive rhythm in the second half, however, as Bullins -- who went scoreless in the first half -- erupted for eight points as part of an 11-0 run that cut SU's lead to 34-33 with 17:35 left to play.
Bullins and Dunton opened the half with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Bullins followed with another trey from the top of the arc. SU took a timeout to try to cool off Bullins, but the sophomore banked in a runner to pull Randolph within one point 40 seconds later to cut Shenandoah's lead to one point.
"She can get hot," Calhoun said of Bullins, who finished with eight points. "She had 31 two games ago... I had to call that 30 [second timeout] quickly in that second half. We wanted to make sure we set the tone with our defense.
"It was one of those things where we knew they were going to make a run, but we had to make sure that when that run came that we were calm and that we could really collect ourselves."
Hornets sophomore Imani Heggins ended Randolph's run with a pull-up jumper in the paint, and senior Holly Chittenden scored 10 of the next 12 points for Shenandoah as part of a 12-4 run that pushed the Hornets' lead 48-37 with 12:20 to play.
Chittenden finished with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for her fifth double-double of the season.
"It's a sense of urgency. They cut the score down and then it came down to taking the open shot when it's open," Chittenden said. "I think I did that a little bit, but it all comes from my team. If the team's not moving, if the team's not running the offense, I'm not going to get open either."
Randolph forwards Allie Druffel and Jensen Hoover -- a Central grad -- got in foul trouble in the second half, and center Megan Russell left with a leg injury with 12:44 left, forcing the WildCats to go with a smaller lineup. The Hornets responded by outscoring Randolph 16-8 in the paint in the second half.
The WildCats managed to cut the deficit to eight points with 9:58 to play, but Shenandoah closed the game with an 18-8 run.
Hoover led Randolph with 12 points to go along with four rebounds.
Heggins finished with 12 points for SU, while Olivia Callen had 11 points and three assists for the Hornets.
Shenandoah will now focus its attention on EMU, which beat the Hornets 58-47 in their only regular season meeting last Wednesday.
"Right now they are playing some really good basketball," Calhoun said of EMU. "They dominated against Lynchburg on Saturday to clinch [the top seed]. If we can make sure that we stop their transition points, that's going to be huge for us. We held them 22 points under their scoring average here at Shingleton. I hope we can do that on the road at Salem as well."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com