Three minutes into Sunday afternoon’s Battle of Comm. Ave between Boston College women’s basketball and rival Boston University, Eagles point guard Taylor Ortlepp already had seven points to her name and was instrumental in building an early 10-0 lead.
Three more 3-pointers later, Ortlepp was putting the finishing touches on a 19-point effort, as BC coasted to a 78-51 win over its neighbors, riding a double-digit edge in rebounds and an aggravating full-court press to its ninth win of the year. Despite shooting below 50 percent from the field and turning the ball over 18 times, the outcome was never in doubt for the Eagles (9-2), who extended the lead in each of the first three quarters.
The visiting Terriers (4-5) lost the opening tip and never made it a game, hitting just one of its first five efforts from behind the arc and falling behind by 20 points in the first 20 minutes. BU struggled with both a short bench and a lack of a post presence in the defeat, its third in a row. Terriers head coach Marisa Mosely only gave two non-starters significant minutes and ultimately saw just four points from them. Additionally, BU was outscored in the paint, 32-14, and BC held a decisive plus-10 edge in rebounding.
Still, Eagles head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee wasn’t exactly pleased with her team’s effort, chalking up assorted struggles to the hectic nature of finals week on campus. She cited steps backwards defensively, pointing to issues with her full court press—even though it ultimately forced 18 turnovers.
“It sounds crazy but I think we took a couple steps back in our defense and the way we’re supposed to be rebounding that ball,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “We’re still working, I don’t think we’re in as shape as we’ll be at the end of January, [but] I didn’t want us to sit back this game.”
The press helped early on, stifling BU to the point where the Terriers didn’t hit a field goal until over six minutes had gone from the clock in the opening quarter. This enabled an early 16-3 lead from the Eagles, bolstered by 10 points from Ortlepp. The junior has been excellent recently, knowing her role in the offense as both a facilitator and a deep threat to keep defenses wary. The Terriers missed that memo, though, allowing her seven largely unimpeded 3-point attempts, of which she buried five of them.
“We’ve been playing our same offensive structure and we’ve started to get to know how to play with each other a little bit better,” Ortlepp said. “My teammates have confidence in me and I just take the shots when I’m open.”
Ortlepp, who dropped 25 points in the narrow loss to Minnesota last time out, seemed surprised on one play when BU’s Naiyah Thompson—who had the best plus-minus rating of any Terrier starter at -13—simply ceded the perimeter to her. She promptly buried the ensuing 3-pointer off a pass from Emma Guy.
Guy had another typical game on the glass, hauling in 13 rebounds, which more than made up for a uncharacteristic seven-point effort in the box score. She suffered an injury scare just two minutes into the third quarter, taking a weird hit to her right knee and limping to the bench. It was a worrisome sign for the Eagles, who leaned on Guy heavily in the early going—she entered averaging 12 points and seven rebounds a game—but she was able to walk it off and return in the fourth quarter.
“I kind of saw it and in my heart of hearts I sort of knew she wasn’t hurt,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “It was the way she kind of got hit that jarred her, but then she was fine.”
The defense got worse as the game went on, but that’s often expected when you come out of the break with a healthy 20-point lead. BU saw its field goal percentage climb from just 25 percent in the opening quarter to 53.8 percent in the fourth, a marked increase for a team that ultimately checked out at just 19-of-55 (34.5 percent) from the field. Bernabei-McNamee worked through her bench, giving 10 players at least 10 minutes of game time. This did translate into some defensive struggles, though, as the Eagles started to chase shooters at points and it showed—open 3-pointers were falling for the visitors to the tune of 6-of-13 after the break.
Still, BC kept its distance in the second half. Sydney Lowery’s been good for six points off the bench and she did more than that on Sunday afternoon, chipping in 12, 10 coming in the third quarter alone. Lowery won’t fool you on defense, as she’s either slicing into the lane and absorbing contact or pulling up from mid-range, but it was effective against the Terriers. BU brought it within 19 early in the third and Lowery decided to take over, rattling off her teams next six points. She hit four free throws and added an acrobatic layup after blocking a 3-pointer on the other end.
“That’s one of the reasons she comes off the bench, she’s a good spark for us,” Bernabei-McNamee said of the sophomore. “I love the inside move she has—her up-and-under is maybe as good as anybody in the country.”
The fourth quarter was an ugly affair. The teams traded points and eventually it was BC dribbling out the clock on a 27-point win. The Eagles got glimpses of the future in the fourth—Clara Ford used her lengthy wingspan to slip past a defender for a layup in the paint while Marnelle Garraud snapped a shooting skid with a five-point swing that included a 3-pointer.
The win, albeit flawed from Bernabei-McNamee’s perspective, was an important one for the Eagles. BU was a team that hosted BC last year and squeaked out a narrow win, but there was no doubt this time around who was the better of the two. The Eagles have won three of four since their worst performance of the year—the Providence loss—and continue to show flashes of depth and potential with conference play looming. The first ACC game isn’t until the turn of the New Year, but it’s a date everyone has circled. For the first time in several years, BC has plenty of hope entering conference play.
Featured Image by Kobe Hurtado / Heights Editor