Porous zone defense outweighs Johnson’s 25 points
Even though Rachel Johnson loaded the Shepherd offense on her slender shoulders for much of the night, the Rams couldn’t overcome their leaky match-up zone defense that continually was staggered by the layups and three-footers taken by Notre Dame College.
In the end, Johnson’s creative 25 points — earned with pull-up jumpers, three-pointers from long range, driving layups and a few free throws — were not enough as the visiting Falcons gave Shepherd its eighth straight loss, an 86-75 conference decision that left the ashes of a season reading a clouded 2-17 overall.
Johnson had some early help from Maggie McLoughlin, who had nine first-half points on successful three-point attempts, but for the most part carried Shepherd’s scoring burden by herself.
However, as has been the case in so many of Shepherd’s homecourt losses, it was the porous half-court defense choices that drowned the Rams.
A prolonged comeback through the latter stages of the first half had carried the Rams to their locker room at the halftime break all even at 47 with the puzzled Falcons.
The problemed half-court, match-up zame had helped Notre Dame to an 11-point lead, but then Johnson and McLoughlin received some scoring influence from Gabby Flinchum and turnover-plagued Briana Vaden to shed the Shepherd deficit.
But while Johnson was rattling off 14 second-half points, Flinchum and Vaden could each add only two more points.
Notre Dame quickly moved to an eight-point lead, but Johnson continued her scoring from all angles.
But whenever Shepherd crept within a handful of points of the lead, the Falcons would reintroduce their pressure defense and float away to double-figure leads.
The Rams would eventually lose 24 turnovers, with Vaden having six of the floor errors and no assists when used as the team’s point guard.
Flinchum missed valuable minutes, and her sparse second-half scoring couldn’t be assuaged by her normal number of rebounds and blocked shots. She still finished with 11 rebounds and three blocks.
In staying with the Falcons for a half, the Rams were 16-for-17 at the foul line in the opening 20 minutes. But in the second half, Shepherd tried only six free throws and made five of those.
With Notre Dame attempting 27 free throws in the second half alone, the Rams were desperate to locate scorers to place alongside the stream of points Johnson was offering.
There were none.
And the Rams swallowed an eighth straight loss that had them in 11th place in a 12-team Mountain East Conference.
Johnson could carry the Rams only so far. Some much-needed help from their defense never came to the rescue. And getting help from the Shepherd defense in 2013-14 season hasn’t found its way to the Butcher Center.