Sports, Women's Basketball

Notebook: Late Game Execution Haunts Eagles in Virginia Tech Loss

Despite leading by as many as 16 points in the third quarter, Boston College women’s basketball watched its lead slipping away and fell to Virginia Tech, 95-86, on Sunday. The Eagles (14-8, 3-6 Atlantic Coast) beat Duke last Thursday in a similarly close game, but couldn’t replicate their late-game poise and win their second straight against the Hokies (15-7, 2-7).

BC was up by nine points heading into the fourth quarter, and it looked like it was going to come out with a win, but things took an ugly turn early on in the final frame and spiraled out of control. Head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee’s team just can’t seem to find consistency in the final stages of games, and that’s definitely something it is going to need to work on. The Eagles are a young team with a lot of new talent, and therefore will have to find a way to compromise and work past setbacks to stay the course.

Here are four takeaways from the loss to VTech, a team that entered with just one win in eight previous conference games.

1) Taylor Ortlepp

Taylor Ortlepp is a key player for the Eagles, and despite exiting the game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury, she was a leading scorer in the matchup. In the first half, she led all scorers with 14 points, connecting on 4-of-7 from deep. By the third quarter, she hit her seventh 3-pointer of the game, tying her career high. Ortlepp went down with two minutes left in the game, which was a tough loss for the Eagles who needed to get some quick points on the board and come out with a win. She finished with a total of 23 points, converting seven of her 13 long-range attempts, a strong turnaround from a 1-for-6 performance the game prior. If Ortlepp misses significant time with an injury, though, BC could quickly fall down the ACC standings, as her importance can’t be understated.

2) Defense

The Eagles put good pressure on the Hokies in the first half, but had a lot of trouble defending in the paint—VTech eventually racked up 40 points inside. The team also struggled to close out shooters on the perimeter, with the Hokies hitting on 11-of-20 (55 percent) from distance. BC hasn’t turned in a strong defensive performance since Jan. 13 against Pittsburgh, having allowed 90-plus points in three of its last four games—albeit the Duke game did go to double overtime. The defense also crumbled when it needed to play at its best, allowing VTech to score 33 points in the final 10 minutes of regulation. BC simply got sloppy and made too many mistakes at the end of the matchup. The most glaring issue in the fourth quarter was the fact that it let Aisha Sheppard drilled three straight 3-pointers, as the Eagles failed to deny her room beyond the arc. Sheppard’s third triple gave her team a 77-75 lead, one that it wouldn’t relinquish.

3) Competitiveness

This matchup was a back-and-forth shootout between BC and VTech. The two teams are both physical and comfortable with playing at a fast pace, and it was evident on the court. The Eagles entered as the team averaging more possessions per 40 minutes—a simple measure of pace—by a healthy margin, per, but the Hokies were able to absorb some of BC’s scoring spurts and return the favor. The second half was a prime example of that—as the Eagles built a 16-point lead, VTech didn’t falter on the road, willing itself back into the game. It seemed like Bernabei-McNamee’s side simply took for granted the fact that it was up by so much. The multi-possession cushion should have given BC more motivation to secure a win—the Eagles have watched late leads slip away a few times this season—but it didn’t, and, instead, BC lost a winnable game against a lesser opponent.

4) Inexperience

Simply put, BC hasn’t found itself in these type of late-game situations often over the last few years, and it’s shown this season. It didn’t have to deal with so-called “close and late” situations much in non-conference play, relying on its up-tempo offense to roll through opponents. Since the start of league competition, though, the fourth quarter has revealed one of the Eagles’ biggest flaws: execution down the stretch. They couldn’t seem to follow through with their strong play all the way into the fourth quarter, and that’s what ultimately lost them the game. Ortlepp’s injury could have acted as something to rally behind for BC—the point guard had turned in her highest scoring output since Dec. 9—but the Eagles just couldn’t come together to execute effectively. The same problems popped up in the narrow double overtime win over Duke and the late road loss to Miami, so it’s up to Bernabei-McNamee to find a way to keep her team’s head in the game when the clock starts to tick down.

Featured Image by Keara Hanlon / For The Heights

February 5, 2019