WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – To conclude their three-game homestand, the Williams Ephs (12-3) fell to the Smith College Pioneers (14-1) 71-64, marking the Ephs' first two-game losing streak of the season.
The Pioneers, who have lost just once this season, proved to be too much for the Ephs' defense. Especially in the early stages of the game, Smith dominated in the paint and on the boards, and took a double-digit lead by the end of the first quarter. In the end, the Ephs allowed 71 points, their most of the season to this point, despite the Pioneers hitting just three shots beyond the arc.
Eph head coach Pat Manning emphasized that the defense – in the post and especially on the ball – needs to improve if the Ephs want to bounce back and end their skid. "Our defense wasn't what it needed to be. If we'd put more pressure on the ball, they wouldn't have been able to make those easy passes. We didn't start well, and we let Smith set the tone."
In the first quarter, the Ephs allowed the Pioneers to make 11 of 17 (64.7%) of their first-quarter field goals. Smith scored a whopping 24 first-quarter points as a result and took a commanding lead over Williams, who managed just 13.
Smith extended their lead in the second quarter, continuing their dominance in the paint and preventing Williams from clawing back. Right before the half, Williams had an opportunity to cut further into the lead when guard Gabby Martin '21 stole the ball near half court, but Martin missed the subsequent layup and the Ephs could not get another shot off before the clock expired. At the end of the half, the Ephs faced a sixteen-point, 39-23 deficit – their largest at the half this season.
The Pioneers grabbed 24 first-half boards, compared to just 11 for the Ephs. Smith also scored at will near the basket, earning 26 of their 39 points within the paint and limiting the Ephs to just 6. While guard Emily Chang '20 led the Ephs with six points at the half, Katelyn Pickunka led the Pioneers with 10. Additionally, three different Pioneers recorded at least five rebounds. Forward Morgan Dauk '21 led Williams with four.
Williams couldn't significantly cut into Smith's lead in the third, finishing the quarter with the same deficit they faced at halftime. Both teams scored 15 points in the quarter, and the Pioneers never let the lead dip below 12. When Emily Chang made her third three-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 47-34, Smith went on a 6-0 run to extend their lead to 19, their largest of the game to that point.
The Ephs managed to outscore the Pioneers 26-17 in the fourth, but their rally was not strong enough to finish the comeback. At one point in the middle of the quarter, the Ephs tried to put pressure on with a full-court press defense, but the Pioneers adjusted well and scored several baskets in transition. The Ephs eventually managed to claw back within seven following a layup by Dauk with 1:05 to go, but were unable to finish their comeback as Smith preserved the victory.
While the Pioneers' extremely efficient first-quarter shooting eventually leveled out, they still managed to make 28 of 57 (49.1%) of their field goals. Williams shot just 27 of 67 (40.3%) from the floor, and made only 8 of a whopping 26 (30.8%) of their three-pointers.
The abundance of threes was a symptom of the Ephs' inability to effectively move the ball on offense. "We didn't move the ball well," commented Manning. "The ball stayed on one side of the floor on a lot of our possessions, and it's easy to play defense when the ball's not moving."
Smith dominated the boards throughout the entire game, outrebounding the Ephs 45-28 and scoring 38 points in the paint. As a result of their physical play, the Pioneers got to the line more often, and made 12 free throws compared to just two for the Ephs.
"[Smith] played harder, and they boxed out better," remarked Manning. "We got away from what our strengths are, which are our defense and our rebounding."
Dauk led the Ephs with 17 points, eight field goals made, and seven rebounds. Off the bench, Martin added 10 points and five steals. For the Pioneers, Pickunka and reserve guard Amelia Clairmont paced the Pioneers with 17 points. Pickunka was the more efficient of the two, making seven of her eight field goal attempts.
This Friday at 7:00PM, the Ephs will look to bounce back on the road against Bowdoin.