The Middlebury women’s basketball team fell to 2-3 on the season with a 53-51 loss to Johnson State as they dropped two of three games over a two-week span. On Nov. 23 the Panthers fell 65-43 to Emmanuel, but rebounded three days later with a six-point win over Johnson State that featured a 20-rebound game from Katie Pett ’14 — her second such game of the season.
On Tuesday Dec. 3, the Panthers lost in heartbreaking fashion as a last-second, desperation heave narrowly missed after Castleton State took a two-point lead with 3.9 seconds remaining.
Middlebury fell into an early eight-point hole as efficient shooting from the Spartans gave the visitors an early advantage. Castleton State opened the game converting seven of their first 14 attempts including a pair of threes to take command of the game.
The Panthers audibled into a two-three zone in an attempt to deter the Spartans’ outside shooters, but Castleton State kept firing away, extending the lead to 10 midway through the first.
Junior forward Alexis Coolidge ’15 kept the Panthers in the game early, knocking down her first four shots of the game for eight first-half points. Point guard Laura Lowry ’14 took over the game down the stretch, pouring in 10 first-half points on 4-7 shooting as Middlebury made a late run to cut the deficit to three at the half.
After a promising run, the Panthers endured a sustained scoring drought to start the second half, failing to score until the 12:45 mark when forward Rachel Crews ’15 knocked down a 20-foot jump shot to cut the Castleton State lead to nine.
Defensively the Panthers shifted back into the two-three zone, forcing a Spartans miss, which led to a Pett layup on the other end. Following a Castleton State bucket, Crews knocked down another long two to draw Middlebury within seven at 43-36 midway through the second half. Crews made it three straight on the very next possession, knocking down a wing three and cutting the deficit to four, giving the junior seven points in a 2:22 span.
After the Panthers cut the lead to two, a quick four-point run by the Spartans extended the visitors’ lead to six before back-to-back baskets from Pett and first-year forward Elizabeth Knox ’17 cut the Castleton lead to 47-45. The comeback was realized two possessions later as Crews knocked down a corner three to give the Panthers their first lead of the game with 5:01 remaining.
“[Rachel has] always shot the ball that way, but never in games because she never was in a position to do it,” said head coach Noreen Pecsok. “When we’re in transition we want her to stop at the three-point line where then the defense has to guard her or leave her. And if they come out and guard her than she has position inside.”
Both teams struggled to convert from the free throw line down the stretch, with Castleton State taking advantage of a miss on the front end of a one-and-one by grabbing the loose rebound and scoring to take a two-point lead. Pett returned the favor on the other end, missing a left-handed shot in the key, but ripping the ensuing offensive rebound out of the hands of a Spartans’ defender and laying the ball in to tie the game at 51 apiece with 1:03 remaining.
After a pair of empty possessions for both teams, Castleton point guard Jade Desroches converted on a runner with 3.9 seconds remaining to give the visitors a two-point lead. Lowry took the ensuing inbound pass and launched a half court shot that clanged off the back iron, but would not fall for the Panthers who fell to the 2-3 on the season with the loss.
“It’s always hard to lose that way, but I felt that in our early season that was our best game,” Pecsok said. “We had a lot more assists and that’s when we know we’re better — when we share the ball. I thought we made adjustments on the fly and reacted really well to them. Our intensity levels were great. They have better scores than we do at this point in the season and we just kept fighting our way back. Some days are easier to coach than others and this team was an easy coach today because we stayed after it.”
First-year forward Elizabeth Knox ’17 — who missed her entire senior year of high school with an injury — led the team in both scoring and rebounding, making all five of her field goal attempts for 12 points while wrestling down 13 rebounds in just 23 minutes.
“She’s like a sponge,” Pecsok said of Knox. “She takes in information so quickly and one thing we’ve noticed about her right away is that she can compete at the intensity level we have here. Sometimes it takes a while for freshmen to get there and she has that. And hitting those shots — that’s a great sign for our future.”
In the Panthers’ narrow 48-42 win over Johnson State, Pett led the way, scoring 17 points and grabbing 20 rebounds as Middlebury overcame a woeful shooting performance to squeeze by the Badgers. The Panthers made just 17 of 64 field goal attempts — shooting less than 27 percent from the floor — and opened the game by missing 12 of their first 13 attempts, falling behind a similarly struggling Johnson State team early.
Trailing 6-2 more than eight minutes into the game, Middlebury’s trio of senior guards — Sarah Marcus ’14, Laura Lowry ’14 and Kristina Conroy ’14 — scored 11 points over the next 10 minutes of play, giving the Panthers an 18-10 lead with 2:13 remaining. The Badgers closed the half with five straight points, however, and tipped off the second half by scoring eight of the half’s first nine points to take a 23-19 lead.
Johnson State extended its lead to a game-high seven points with 7:41 remaining before Pett, who had scored just two points at that juncture, took over the game for the Panthers, scoring 15 points over the final 7:26 of the game. The senior from Saginaw, Mich. found her range by knocking down a jump shot before attacking the Badgers’ zone — a late-game adjustment — with three layups over a 2:38 span to swing the game in the Panthers’ favor and give her team a six-point lead with 1:55 remaining.
Pett then sealed the game at the free throw line, making seven of 10 free throws down the stretch to give her team the 48-42 victory. The former walk on leads the NESCAC in both rebounds (14) and steals (3.2) per game and is second on the team with 10.4 points per game.
“What she does at 5’7’’ is remarkable,” Pecsock said. “I find myself — and this rarely happens to me as a coach — watching her as a spectator. It’s so cool to watch. She’s smart and how she scores over people she scores over … I don’t know. And the rebounding is shocking. She has done it long enough for us to know it’s for real. It’s not a one-game thing. I can’t say enough about her — she’s fantastic in every aspect. I’m not sure I’ve coached anyone tougher.”
Pett uses a combination of pre-shot preparation and unrelenting energy and will to dominate the glass.
“I just try to get whatever angle I can,” Pett said. “Box out first and then go get it. I’m not big enough to just go get the ball so I have to get a position where I can get it. But once it comes off the rim I just keep going until I get it. If I have to hit the ball out of someone’s hands a couple of times, then that’s what I’ll do.”
For the Panthers, the victory over Johnson State was a needed rebound after a 22-point loss to Emmanuel the week before, in which Middlebury turned the ball over 22 times while shooting 28 percent from the floor. And while Pecsok’s squad continues to struggle to score, they turned the ball over a season-low nine times against Johnson State, including just three second-half giveaways and shot 45 percent from the floor in the first half against Castleton State.
The Panthers travel to Skidmore (1-4) on Saturday Dec. 7 and play four more nonconference games before they begin NESCAC play against Bates on Jan. 10.