The Emporia State Lady Hornets overcame a disastrous first-quarter performance to secure a 77-68 victory over Missouri Western on Saturday.
Hornet head coach Toby Wynn said that the way his team came out to start the game went back to how it prepared.
“We didn’t have a good practice at all on Friday and we didn’t have a great shootaround here this morning as well,” Wynn said. “You’re going to play like you practice and we started the game like we practiced and prepared.”
The opening quarter was remarkably forgettable for Emporia State. While they jumped on top 8-4 in the first two-plus minutes, the Hornets saw Missouri Western flip a switch and go on a 24-7 tear, ending the period with a 28-15 lead.
“They definitely came out and punched us,” said Hornet senior Fredricka Sheets.
The Griffons absolutely sizzled from the floor in the first quarter, making their first 10 shots. In fact, Missouri Western didn’t miss until there were 35 seconds left in the period and, as luck would have it, the Griffons pulled down the rebound and kicked the ball out for a 3-pointer by Josie Weishaar.
The Hornets, meanwhile, shot just 5 of 20 in the first quarter and turned the ball over seven times, often with lackadaisical passes that led to 13 Griffon fastbreak points in the initial ten minutes.
“They came out with that press, which we knew was going to happen, but they’re very long and athletic and it’s hard to simulate that in practice,” said Daley Handy, who played her final regular-season game at White Auditorium. “We were a little bit too passive and didn’t attack it.”
But there was a dramatic shift in the second quarter as Emporia State scored the first five points of the quarter with a layup by Handy and a 3-pointer by sophomore Tre’ Zure Jobe. The Griffons responded with a jumper from Brionna Budgetts before the Hornets scored the next 10 points, tying the game at 30 with 4:34 before halftime.
“I don’t know what it was that got our team clicked and got us going there in the second quarter, but whatever it was they finally got the page turned and we were able to get back in the game,” Wynn said.
Missouri Western’s Camille Evans scored to slow the Hornets’ run at the 2:53 mark, but at the other end Daley Handy sunk a triple to take back the lead at 33-32.
By halftime, Emporia State had stretched its lead to 40-37, having outscored Missouri Western 25-9 in the second period.
“We were able to finally get some stops defensively there in the second quarter,” Wynn said. “In the first quarter, they drove right at us and hit us in the mouth at the rim. In the second quarter, we did a little better job protecting the basket and not making it so easy for them.”
The Griffons reclaimed the lead at 48-47 just over three minutes into the second half, but it only lasted 22 seconds, as two Sheats free throws put the Hornets back on top. The two squads traded buckets throughout the third, playing each other closely at the same time for the first time in the game.
Junior Karsen Schultz hit a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left in the third to put the Hornets up by 6, 63-57, a lead they would hold going into the fourth quarter. Emporia State expanded that margin during the final ten minutes, going on to win by nine.
“I think it shows that we’ve got a lot of different people that have some ability to hang in there and have some firepower and it wasn’t just one person that was able to make a play to come back,” Wynn said of his team’s resilience in responding after the first quarter. “... Collectively, everybody did it. I think the biggest thing that we did to be able to do that was we remained aggressive on the offensive rebounding.”
Emporia State pulled down 21 offensive boards which led to 20 second-chance points. Wynn described second-chance buckets as the type of plays his team needs to make in order to make the comeback it did.
The Hornets were led by senior Fredricka Sheats, who scored 21 points on 7 of 17 shooting. Ehlaina Hartman went 6 of 13 from the floor to score 20 and Tre’ Zure Jobe went 6 of 14 for 18.
Saturday was possibly the final game in White Auditorium for Daley Handy who, unlike the other seniors on the team, has chosen not to exercise the NCAA’s option to not count this season against a player’s eligibility.
After the game, she reflected on her time playing at White Auditorium.
“It’s been amazing, the crowd, the fans, you can’t find that anywhere else at D-I or even D-II,” Handy said. “The fans here make it awesome. White is a great experience and I’ll cherish my memories here forever. … I’m grateful.”
“Daley’s been a great Lady Hornet for us, she really has,” Wynn said. “She’s had to be really resilient, she’s had to play a lot of different roles during her time here in the last three years for me. She’s a tough matchup for people because of her ability to be able to handle the basketball and make some shots from the 3-point line. She makes us tough to guard offensively because of that. And then she just battles and competes on the defensive end. …
“She’s been a great teammate and a great ambassador for not only Lady Hornet basketball, but for ESU and the community of Emporia. She’s definitely been a joy to be around and her teammates love her. We’re definitely going to miss her around here.”
With the win, the Hornets improved to 16-4 and now look ahead to a trip to Pittsburg State on Thursday for their penultimate game of the season.
The Hornets sit at fourth place in the MIAA going into the final week of the regular season. If they can hold that position, they would host their first-round game of the MIAA postseason tournament at White Auditorium as the league has opted to hold all three rounds of the tournament at campus sites this year as a COVID-19 safety measure.