WORCESTER, MA – A 9-0 run to finish off the first half by the WPI Engineers (9-4) turned out to be insurmountable for the Williams Ephs (11-1), who suffered their first defeat of the season by a 64-58 score.
Trailing 22-19 with 2:23 to go in the first half, WPI's Spencer Vinson made a layup to start an Engineer rally. Kara O'Neil then made both free throws off a shooting foul by the Ephs' Maggie Meehan '21. Alex Scariati made a three with just 26 seconds to go, and O'Neil emphatically capped off the run with a buzzer-beating jump shot to extend the WPI lead to 28-22 at the half.
The Engineers' run proved to be the most significant turning point of the game, as the Ephs did not take a single second-half lead.
While the offense suffered from poor ball movement and a heavy reliance on the three-point shot, the biggest concerns from the Ephs' performance came on defense. "We just didn't play the type of defense that we typically play tonight," said Eph head coach Pat Manning following the loss. "We didn't communicate as well and gave [WPI] some easy looks. It was uncharacteristic for us."
Guard Mikaela Topper '21 paced the Ephs with 23 points – more than twice as many as anyone else on either side – and a team-leading five assists. Guard Emily Chang '20 added 10 points and six rebounds for the Ephs.
No Engineer scored more than 11 points, but Vinson led the way with 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting. Alana Keating scored 10 points, six of which came on a sequence of back-to-back threes in the second quarter. Maddie Blake finished with nine points and a team-leading eight rebounds.
Both teams struggled to score early, with the Ephs and Engineers combining for just 11 points in the first 6:21. Williams finished the first quarter trailing 12-9, and trailing since WPI took the lead with more than 7 minutes to go in the quarter. In the second, the Ephs enjoyed more offensive success, with a Topper three-pointer capping off an 8-0 run to begin the quarter. But the Engineers fought back, finishing the half with their own 9-0 run to take a 28-22 halftime lead.
The Ephs continued to trail in the third quarter, and WPI's Alana Keating made two consecutive three-pointers to extend the Engineers' lead to 11 – their largest of the game. Williams fought back with a 7-1 run featuring a three by Meehan and two layups from Topper, but Sarah Lyons quickly answered with a triple of her own. Thanks to yet another WPI buzzer-beater, this time from Vinson, the Engineers finished the quarter with an 8-point lead.
WPI held on in the fourth quarter, keeping it at least a two-possession game and hitting the one-minute mark with a seven-point lead. Due to several intentional fouls, the teams combined for 20 points in the final minute, but it wasn't enough for the Ephs to finish their comeback. Chang cut the deficit to four – the lowest it had been since halftime – with 25 seconds to play. After a series of fouls, Topper seemed to have an open look behind the arc but then drove to the basket and missed a driving layup, effectively sealing the game for the Engineers.
The Ephs struggled with inefficient shooting for the second straight game, hitting only 23 of 61 (37.7%) of their field goals and making just 6 of 25 (24.0%) from beyond the arc. Though the two teams were relatively even in turnovers (Williams had 18, while WPI had 19), the Engineers scored 18 points off turnovers as opposed to just 12 for the Ephs. Though the margin was close, the Ephs were outrebounded 34-32.
The Engineers were only slightly better from the field, making 20 of 49 (40.8%) of their shots, and 7 of 21 (33.3%) of their three-pointers. The biggest advantage for WPI came from the free throw department, as they made a whopping 17 free throws, compared to just 6 for Williams.
Shot selection was a key reason behind the free-throw discrepancy. "They did a better job of attacking the basket," commented Manning. "We settled for some bad shots, and I think we took too many threes. We weren't patient with our offense, and we weren't working hard enough to get open."
In Manning's opinion, if the Ephs are able to fix their issues on defense, the offense should be able to follow. "Everything else hinges on our defensive intensity," remarked Manning. "We create our offense from our defense, and we can't let up defensively."
This Friday at 7:00PM, the Ephs begin the NESCAC portion of their schedule with a home match against Hamilton.