A string of COVID-19 related stoppages have dominated the tale of the 2020-21 campaign for Boston College women’s basketball. The Eagles were forced to pause their season following a Jan. 17 loss to Notre Dame due to a positive COVID-19 test within the program. After more than two weeks, the Eagles returned to action for just one game, a 97-68 loss to No. 1 Louisville on Feb. 5. Later that week, another positive test in the program forced yet another stoppage that postponed three critical conference games. Before the pauses, the Eagles had recorded just one conference win and haven’t added to that total since.
After nearly two weeks, the Eagles (5-9, 1-9 Atlantic Coast) returned to the court on Tuesday, and despite holding a late lead, fell 83-80 to Pittsburgh (4-9, 2-8). The game marked the eighth installment of the annual Play4Kay game, in which the Eagles donned all-pink uniforms to honor female cancer survivors. The game is named in honor of Clare Droesch, BC ’05 and former point guard for the Eagles, who lost her six-year battle to breast cancer in 2018.
“That’s something even we talked about before the game,” BC head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said in her postgame press conference. “There’s so many people that have fought and won the battle with breast cancer, and then there’s the people that haven’t won that battle, and that’s what we’re trying to play for and represent.”
Despite the loss, all hope is not lost for the Eagles. Taylor Soule notched a game-high 27 points and totaled 12 rebounds, which was a result of what Bernabei-McNamee described as “tough” play.
Freshman Allie Palmieri, who joined the team just weeks ago after graduating from high school a semester early, recorded nine points, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. While to many the idea of graduating earlier and playing on this bigger stage might prove daunting, Palmieri has more than stepped up to the challenge. She even stuck around after the game to take more practice shots.
“She’s out there right now putting up shots after a loss,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “She’s got a lot of heart, and she’s got a high IQ.”
Despite having played just two other games in the last month, the Eagles’ play started strong from the opening whistle. After BC won the tipoff, Marnelle Garraud nailed a 3-pointer and forced a Pittsburgh turnover on the Panthers’ first possession of the game. The Eagles finished the first quarter on a 10-0 run, culminating in a buzzer-beating layup from junior guard Cameron Swartz.
In the second quarter, BC built onto its lead, with strong play on both sides of the ball. The Eagles went into halftime with a 44-34 lead, thanks largely to a nine-point second quarter from Jaelyn Batts.
Coming out of the locker room after halftime, BC stumbled on both sides of the ball, and Pitt took advantage. The Panthers went on a 9-0 run thanks in large part to Jayla Everett and Tracey Hueston. The third quarter came to a close with a 64-62 lead for the Panthers.
With the two teams only separated by one score at the end of the third, the final 10 minutes became the deciding factor. A minute and a half into the fourth quarter, Soule’s free throw knotted the game up at 66 apiece. From there, Pitt surged ahead, eventually taking a 75-68 lead, but two more made free throws from Soule cut the BC deficit to five.
Regardless of the fact that it was down by multiple scores, BC didn’t roll over. A triple from Makayla Dickens, followed by a Soule layup, brought the score within four. Bernabei-McNamee called a timeout with 59 seconds remaining in regulation. Garraud forced a jump ball and quickly hit Dickens, who was wide open for a 3-pointer, bringing the score within one and forcing a Pitt timeout.
The Panthers shot the ball from just inside the 3-point line several times, coming up empty with the clock winding down. The ball went out of bounds and was awarded to the Panthers, who inbounded it deep into their defensive zone, and BC immediately fouled Everett for two free throws. Everett, who led the Panthers with 22 points on the night, made the first and missed the second, allowing BC to grab the rebound and call a quick timeout. With the ball in their hands and 9.9 seconds to play, the Eagles gave up another free throw chance to Pitt, making it 83-80, which held despite Dickens’ last-second heave.
“This week we don’t have time to dwell on anything,” Bernabei-McNamee said. “We have to learn from it, you know, and that’s one of the things that we constantly say: we’re not going to ever be losers. We’re going to be learners, we’re going to take from what we did wrong in this game and adjust it and get better at it.”
Featured Image by Liv Genovese / For the Heights