By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Factors appeared to be conspiring to give the Shepherd University women’s basketball team a bad day. It didn’t turn out that way.
Hitting 52 percent from the floor and 19 of 24 from the foul line on Saturday afternoon, the Rams handed Bluefield State its third loss in a row, 98-65 at the Ned Shott Gym.
The Rams’ trip from the Eastern Panhandle on Friday was long and treacherous due to bad weather. The team bus also broke down. The squad did not get off the road until about midnight. Pre-existing illnesses limited the team to nine players in uniform Saturday.
But sophomore Rachel Johnson had career highs with 27 points and eight assists, and Shady Spring graduate Emily Daniel added 18 points and 13 boards for Shepherd (8-9, 7-6 West Virginia Conference).
Shepherd head coach Melanie Ford said, “We did have a smaller bench, and I think that makes the girls that are on the court know they have to step up and be accountable ... .
“Our girls came out, and I felt like they played together, they had a certain sense of urgency from the get-go. ... I think they were just ready to play.”
Johnson scored the first points of the game and recorded 10 of the Rams’ first 20 points. Meanwhile, the Lady Blues (10-7, 8-6) went five minutes between field goals as the visitors took a 20-6 lead and never looked back.
Bluefield State head coach J.J. Oliver said, “Rachel Johnson put on a clinic there in the first half.” He said the Lady Blues were “not playing defense, and not playing with the energy that we need to play with to win basketball games.”
The Rams shot 62.5 percent from the field prior to halftime; Bluefield State made 10 of 36 attempts, then went 12 for 39 in the second half.
Oliver said, “Our biggest problem right now is not our opponent. It’s us. We’re not doing the things that we need to do to win basketball games.”
“We don’t have the same work ethic that we had at the beginning of the year. That’s what we’ve got to do, specifically on the defensive end. We’re not working the whole possession; we’re not completing possessions. That’s been our biggest problem.”
Ford said, “I thought our girls did a good job of following through with going to the hole, getting our shots in the lane. That’s what we work on every game, getting high-percentage shots.”
Though Bluefield State was out-rebounded 56 to 35, the Lady Blues held their own on the inside, clearing 19 defensive boards while Shepherd had 17 offensive rebounds.
“I thought we did a pretty good job as far as holding down their scoring in the paint,” Oliver said. “We teach our kids that we should be able to box out anybody.”
Shae Mebane blocked four shots, provided three assists and had one steal for Bluefield State. LaWanna Gravely came off the bench for 13 points and three assists, and Charity Harris had 11 points and five rebounds.
Though Shepherd had a lead of 51-31 at the half and did not see their lead threatened, the Lady Blues fought for ball-stops and players for both teams were hustling until the final buzzer.
Ford said, “Bluefield, I give them credit. They definitely came out ... with the will to win. I’ve got to be proud of my girls for holding on to the ball and not being disrupted too much by their pressure, but I give them credit for coming out and giving what they could give.”
Daniel, a senior, scored Shepherd’s last basket with 8.7 seconds left, giving her 969 career points. Her 13 boards was a season high.
She said, “Coach said before the game, a key to winning is wanting the ball. So I just went out and I wanted it, especially those rebounds. So it was a very good day.”
Bluefield State next travels the length of the state to play Monday night at West Liberty (11-5, 9-3).
“We’ve got a quick turnaround,” Oliver said. “We’re playing the top teams in the conference, back to back here. That’s where we say we want to be. You get the opportunity to knock ’em off, it’s your job to knock ’em off.
“It’s a chance for us to decide whether we are going to be the team people want us to be, and that’s the team they picked at the bottom of the conference, or are we going to suck it up and work like we need to work, to be who we expect to be, and that’s a top team in the conference.”
— Contact Tom Bone at