Flinchum, Arden brought in earlier; Rams topple West Liberty
Morgan Arden and Gabby Flinchum don’t start games.
But Arden has been Shepherd’s leading scorer for much of the season and Flinchum was a three-year starter before being injured before the 2014-15 campaign even began.
Last Thursday, the pre-game postioning showed an unusual four-way tie at the top of the Mountain East standings. Shepherd was one of the four. And so was West Liberty, that night’s opponent at the Butcher Center. There were only five games left to the disappearing regular season.
When Shepherd fell behind early to a quick West Liberty start, both Arden and Flinchum were inserted with fully 16:33 left in the first half.
The same scenario happened in the second half. West Liberty had a prosperous beginning. Both Arden and Flinchum hopped off the Shepherd bench and came in to play at the 16:34 mark.
In the 33 minutes Flinchum would play, she scored 21 points and claimed a career high 19 rebounds. Arden would log 29 minutes, and make 8 of her 14 field goal attempts, 3-of-4 free throws and total four assists as the Rams claimed a crucial, stay-in-first-place 77-72 win over the hustling Hilltoppers.
Important help for the two erstwhile able reserves came from Rachel Johnson (17 points, seven rebounds, no turnovers), Cara Mason (five assists, one turnover and four rebounds) and Liz Myers (eight rebounds as the Rams outrebounded the taller visitors by nine).
There was only one Shepherd turnover in the first half. But because West Liberty had scored the last six points before the break, the game was even at 38-38.
Flinchum seemed to be in the midst of nearly everything at the Shepherd end. She fired away from close range, often missing but getting her own rebound. Time after time, in a maelstrom of bodies and activity, she either misfired, was fouled, had a shot blocked, rebounded or scored. It was a near-feast or famine situation. There was more near-feast as the 6-foot-3 senior scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds by halftime. Flinchum’s shooting chart showed her going 3-for-12.
Arden, a freshman guard usually in the middle of most of any game’s activity, had scored six points by the break.
It was Johnson who was the guiding force in a telling 11-point Shepherd streak of points that brought it from a 20-12 deficit to a 23-20 lead.
In the second half, once the Arden-Flinchum duo left the Shepherd sideline, the Rams forged a smallish lead. And then steadily added to it.
Mason’s driving layup through traffic sent Shepherd ahead, 57-49.
Hilltoppers’ Coach Lynn Ullom instituted a fullcourt press.
The lead looked ragged a few times. But it was never fully dissolved by the mostly marginal defense of the Hilltoppers.
With the Rams holding a seemingly safe lead, Ullom and his troops had to foul and foul just to get Shepherd to the line. West Liberty had only three team fouls when it wanted seven because then the Rams might miss the subsequent free throws.
The final figures showed Shepherd making 17 of its 24 free throws . . . enough to deal West Liberty a loss that turned its league record to 13-5 while Shepherd and Charleston both had 14-4 first-place marks.
Flinchum and Arden had been summoned earlier than usual in both halves. And Flinchum played close to three times the number of minutes she often sees.
There were just four games remaining. Three were at home and the other was at Wheeling Jesuit, which had just tamed Shepherd in the Butcher Center.
Would Flinchum and Arden be needed with 16:34 left in each half of any of those critical games?