CNU Rolls Over Royals
EMU Loses In First Round Of NCAAs, 78-63
FERRUM — Donning a black Eastern Mennonite University sweater vest, women’s basketball coach Kevin Griffin crossed his arms and yelled out instructions to his team with a little less than 11 minutes left in the game.
Not that the marching orders mattered.
Playing in an NCAA Division III tournament game for the second straight year, the Royals sputtered out of the gates and never recovered en route to a 78-63 loss to Christopher Newport on Friday.
It was the most lopsided loss for the Royals since they were beaten 86-56 by Washington & Lee in the quarterfinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament during the 2010-11 season. The Royals also tied a season-high with 78 points allowed. The previous high came in the same gym against the Ferrum Panthers in a 78-72 loss on Dec. 7.
“We got our tails kicked tonight and we know it, everybody knows it and it’s unfortunate that it’s on a national stage, but that can’t take away from what this group has accomplished,” Griffin said.
EMU finished the season 22-6, tied for the second-best season in school history, behind only the 2003-04 team that went 25-4. It’s also the winningest senior class in senior history, Griffin said.
Playing in front of 500 fans in a crackerbox of a gymnasium at pod host Ferrum College, Griffin’s squad never showed the talent and energy of their regular-season ODAC-champion selves.
The Captains (23-5), who went to the Elite Eight last season, were better than EMU in almost every facet. They led 11-0 before the Royals knew what hit them.
A high-pressure full-court trapping defense – similar to what the Royals use – helped force 17 turnovers.
“We did know [the pressure] was coming, but for some reason we were caught off-guard,” senior guard Steph Rheinheimer said. “They were really aggressive in their full-court press and we haven’t seen anyone that athletic all year. It kind of caught us off-guard and we struggled with it all game.”
CNU coach Bill Broderick, a former Division I assistant at Elon and Bucknell in his second-year in Newport News, knew the pressure could throw the Royals out-of-sync – just not to the extent it did.
“We were really planning to have to… not be able to pressure the same way we have all year,” Broderick said. “But at the same time, we’re not going to switch what we do until they show they can handle it and I think our pressure really bothered them a lot more than I thought it would.”
The Royals trailed by double digits for most of the first half before cutting the deficit to seven with less than a minute left. But a CNU offensive rebound-turned-basket followed by an EMU turnover led to a banked-in 3-pointer by CNU’s Brandi Holland at the buzzer to give the Captains a 43-31 halftime advantage.
After the break, CNU started the second half on a 19-5 run to put the game out of reach.
“They rebounded better than us and had a lot of second-chance opportunities and they executed better than us,” EMU junior forward Shakeerah Sykes said.
Christopher Newport junior center Camry Green, bigger and more physical than anyone guarding her, scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds, both team highs. She was helped by senior forward Nicole Mitchell, who added 20 points.
“She’s a really good player and honestly we just tried to do the best we could,” Sykes said of Green, a 6-foot-1 Richmond native. “She’s strong and she’s just smart. Her team knows how to get the ball to her.”
Sykes led the Royals with 23 points off the bench, tying a career-high set last year against Randolph-Macon.
“I just thought when she touched the ball she was the one person who was aggressive,” Griffin said of Sykes. “We just didn’t get it to her enough.”
Senior forward Bianca Ygarza and sophomore forward Jess Rheinheimer, who entered the game averaging 14.2 and 10.4 points, respectively, were held to nine and eight points apiece.
A year ago, EMU scored a season-low 42 points and shot 32 percent in a loss to Marymount in the first round. Christopher Newport shot 53 percent Friday, far better than the 37.5 percent the Royals allowed leading up to the tournament.
Last year, the NCAA tournament was new territory for the Royals. Friday, Griffin said he couldn’t remember a worse performance in his eight years at EMU.
“They were better and they were clearly better tonight,” Griffin said. “We felt a lot better than we did going into the [tournament] last year. We looked scared for a while and we looked rattled. I can’t explain that.”