Hawks show guts, heart in tight season-ending loss to Bethune
NORFOLK, Virginia - The last thing the University of Maryland Eastern Shore wanted to happen in Wednesday’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament second-round contest against defending champion Bethune-Cookman (24-5) was to get off to a slow start.
Then, less than three minutes into the game, the Hawks were staring at a 14-0 deficit. Eastern Shore (11-20) battled back to take their first lead of the game, 30-29, seconds before the half. But, the Wildcats then used a 16-0 run to begin the third quarter burying the Hawks again.
The fourth quarter saw another comeback as The Shore would cut the lead to five with 23 second left despite seeing three starters foul out, but ended up on the wrong end of a 71-65 final.
“I thought my kids fought and I thought we showed a lot of grit out there today,” Hawks head coach Fred Batchelor said. “It was really a tough game especially in the first half when we struggled to score and play with them. It looked like they were just outplaying us. But the things we worked on in the second quarter, we were able to capitalize off of and took the lead.
“At the end of the day it wasn’t the start that really hurt us, it was the third quarter.”
After the slow start in the first, Batchelor took a timeout to talk things over with his team looking at a 10-0 deficit on the scoreboard he needed them to know that they could play with Bethune. They were tighter the more BCU scored and seemed desperate just to get a basket.
“They really defend,” Batchelor said. “I thought they made it hard for us in certain situations to get off. (Ashanti) Hunt did a good job. She’s the Defensive Player of the Year and they moved her to play on different people and it’s kind of tough because you almost end up playing 4-on-4 because she does such a good job.”
Batchelor said the tightness got worse until during a first quarter timeout, assistant coach Sidney Raikes said “This is exactly where we want to be” as the team trailed 10-0.
“I think that kind of took the edge off the kids and we talked about the fact that we were OK,” Batchelor said. “But it was the players who came through.”
The Hawks finally got on the board when graduate transfer Jordyn Smith (Durham, North Carolina) hit a jumper at the 6:15 mark of the first quarter.
The Shore battled back to within one, 29-28, when senior Tori Morris (Herndon, Virginia) made a layup and then junior Ciani Byrom (Winston-Salem, North Carolina) to give the Hawks their first lead of the game, 30-29, heading into the half.
The second half should have spelled a new game for the Hawks, but Bethune’s 16-0 run to start the third put the Hawks right back where they started as they went scoreless for nearly seven minutes and were outscored 16-5.
“I thought the five-point third quarter really hurt us playing against a team of that caliber,” Batchelor said. “If we were able to find a little more production, I thought it could have been a different outcome.”
The Hawks were also in foul trouble in the second half as the disparity of fouls began to catch up with them. Senior Alexus Hicks (Raleigh, North Carolina) fouled out in the third quarter
“It got us in a lull and affected out confidence and maybe even our swagger to a point where it can even affect how the game is called form a standpoint of the officials. They just start getting calls where you walk like you deserve it and you get it. I thought that happened and it hurt us.”
Angel Golden led the Wildcats with 29 points in 35 minutes, while Ashanti Hunt chipped in 22 points and seven rebounds.
“Golden was tough all night,” Batchelor said. “She hit some really tough shots. And she went 10-for-10 from the line. She showed she was (MEAC) Player of the Year today. I thought her play was the difference. Every time we got closer or we started to make a run she just made timely baskets that gave them a little bit more of a cushion.”
Eastern Shore was whistled for 28 fouls resulting in 27-of-37 from the line for the Wildcats, while Bethune was called for 17 and the Hawks were 17-of-25 from the line.
Byrom finished with 15 points, three assists and three rebounds. Eaton finished with nine points, five boards, two assists and three steals.
The game was the last for seniors Smith, Morris, Martha Thompson (Bedford Heights, Ohio) and Hicks.
“One thing I have learned is that you never really miss them until they are gone,” Batchelor said. “Tori came into our program as a fifth-year kid as a transfer (before her junior season) and she’s just been someone we have been able to depend on every day. To not have her going into the future is scary. Because I know that I can depend on Tori. I know that she will be there. I appreciate what she has done showing up every day and being committed to what we are doing.”
She finished the game with 10 points — all in the first half — 4 rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
Smith finished with 10 points and five rebounds and showed an unbelievable toughness hitting the court for the final two games of her career in a knee brace because of a serious injury.
“I wish I had more time with Jordyn because we only had her for a year,” Batchelor said. “It was tough for her. She practiced limited time this week with the knee swelling and I thought she went out there from the beginning of the year to the end and played hard and played with her heart. She has been a pleasure to coach.”
Thompson scored eight points, grabbed eight boards, and added three assists and two steals.
“Marty has given us some big moments,” Batchelor said. “I thought yesterday’s game was huge for us to advance and I thought even today she made some plays. I think we learned a lot from having someone like her in our program.”
Hicks finished with six points, a pair of rebounds an assist and three steals.
“Hicks is a four-year player who had a big game yesterday to help us advance with six 3’s,” Batchelor said. “She got in foul trouble today. It was a tough one for a senior, but she didn’t leave any bullets in the gun and that’s what I like about her. She is a kid who I am going to miss more when she’s gone than I will right now. Hicks in four years I have never known her to be late for anything. She has made a tremendous contribution to this program.
“And her growth as a student who really didn’t know if she wanted to go to college to a 3.0 grade point average and graduating with plans to go to graduate school is what this experience is all about.
“I’m proud to be a part of that and I appreciate those kids a lot.”
For more information on Eastern Shore Athletics visit http://www.easternshorehawks.com/.
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