Hawks advance in MEAC Tourney after beating Hornets
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore suffered through the swarm in the first half of its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament opening-round game on Tuesday (March 6) and trailed a hot-shooting Hornets squad 33-27 at the break.
But the Hawks used a 26-15 third quarter and saw four different players reach double digits in scoring as they ran away with a 77-60 victory in the second half. Eastern Shore will now face Bethune-Cookman on Wednesday (March 7) at 2 p.m.
“I thought Delaware State played a really good first five minutes,” Hawks coach Fred Batchelor said. “I thought their energy was higher than ours. They made shots. They came ready to play and I think it kind of put us on our heels a little bit. What we were fighting against and talking about in the locker room is that when things don’t go well, we still have to play with a spirit of determination.”
The Hawks (11-19) found that spirit — and looked like a different squad — after the second half whistle.
They got 18 points from senior guard Alexus Hicks (Raleigh, North Carolina), who was 6-of-14 from the field — all behind the arc — and added four assists, four steals and three rebounds in 35 minutes. Hicks’ four 3’s in the third went a long way toward the Hawks establishing dominance in the contest.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me in the offense,” Hicks said. “They were penetrating and I was just getting to the open spot. They were looking to get it to me and I just made sure I knocked it down for them.”
Ciani Byrom (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) was second with 17 points to go with four assists, a steal and a rebound in 32 minutes. She was 3-of-4 from behind the arc.
“I think (the difference in the second half) was just getting those jitters out,” Byrom said. “It is really a brand new team coming to the tournament with new players — and freshmen — that haven’t played in this atmosphere and we have a lot of pressure on us too. Just getting those out and letting them know to just play how you play and get comfortable.”
Delaware State (6-24) got 22 points from NaJai Pollard, but in the end it was the Hawk’s much deeper lineup that won the day.
Keyera Eaton (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) finished with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Graduate transfer Martha Thompson (Bedford Heights, Ohio) came off the bench to score 11.
“It makes it much easier as a team when everybody contributes,” Byrom said. “It’s really tough to compete with a team that has four or five players in double digits when you only have two. It really makes a big impact when we all contribute as a team.”
Bairesha Gill-Miles (Lexington, Kentucky) — who picked up her MEAC Rookie of the Year hardware before the game — finished with eight points and four rebounds in 20 minutes, but a third-quarter substitution after a hard fall as she went for a rebound ended up working out just fine for the Hawks.
Thompson put in some time at the four position, which allowed the Hawks to spread the floor and helped get open look from the outside. She also added five rebounds two steals and a block in 22 minutes off the bench.
“Buns (Gill-Miles) was playing well and tough inside,” Batchelor said. “We needed her rebounding presence. However, she has been playing through some nagging shoulder issues all year long. She took a fall and it forced us to play with Marty at the four. We have been doing that with her at the four and it gives us a little more versatility. Her size allows us to do that and it allows us another ball handler.”
While Batchelor said he wished she had done so a few more times instead of settling for jumpers, Thompson’s driving to the basket forced Delaware State to make decisions on defense that allowed the Hawks to take advantage.
Jordyn Smith (Durham, North Carolina) battled on the inside and on the glass for the entire game, finishing with nine rebounds to go with five points and a steal in 24 minutes.
The Hawks turned the ball of just eight times and only committed seven fouls. The team scored 16 points off 14 Delaware State turnovers and scored 19 second-chance points with the help of 15 offensive boards.
The Eastern Shore bench held a 17-9 advantage over the Hornets subs.
For more information on Eastern Shore Athletics visit http://www.easternshorehawks.com/.
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