UD women’s basketball falls just short of comeback in home opener

The UD women’s basketball team warms up prior to their home opener against Akron on Sunday. Photo courtesy of Flyer News.

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The University of Dayton women’s basketball team fell just short of coming back from a 15-point halftime deficit, losing in their home opener 77-74 to Akron on Sunday.

Led by redshirt senior guards Erin Whalen (26 points, 7 rebounds on 9-20 shooting from the field) and Jenna Giacone (16 points, 6 rebounds on 7-13 shooting), the Flyers cut a 15-point halftime deficit to as low as two, but weren’t able to overcome a big discrepancy on three-point shooting percentage (52 to 29 percent).

Although the first home game resulted in a loss, UD head coach Shauna Green said it was great to be back on the court.

You know, it’s been it’s been a long time,” Green said. “It wasn’t the same you know without that home court advantage. It was a lot different. But it was good to just be on the court… We went through so many hurdles you know to even just be able to play this game so we don’t take that for granted at all.”

The first points of the game came on a lay-up by true freshman guard Makira Cook, who was making her first start in place of Kyla Whitehead, who was unavailable e due to a “medical issue” according to Green.

After Cook’s lay-up, the barrage of threes began from Akron. By the first quarter media timeout with 5:39 remaining in the quarter, the Zips had made 4 of 5 threes and led 16-8. Over the rest of the first quarter, the duo of junior forward Colleen Neitzel and senior forward Jordyn Dawson led the Zips to a 33-16 at the of one.

“We let them get comfortable from three early and they were on fire,” Green said. “I mean, you can’t give up 33 points in a quarter and start a game like that and expect to win.” 

The Flyers came out stronger in the first part of the second quarter, with Whalen and Giacone pouring in seven of the next nine points for the Flyers to cut the deficit to 35-25 with 6:52 left in the quarter, forcing an Akron timeout. 

Both teams exchanged baskets over the next three minutes, including four straight threes between the two teams to make it a 45-33 Akron lead with 2:21 left in the quarter. 

Akron would hold serve to close the half, taking a 52-37 lead into halftime, led by Dawson, who had 16 points at the break. 

Although the Flyers led rebounds 16-12, the Zips committed just 3 turnovers to the Flyers’ 9, and got 13 points off turnovers. 

In the third quarter, the Flyers locked down on turnovers, committing just four, and went on a 12-5 run to start the quarter, trailing just 57-49 and forcing a Zips timeout with 4:28 left in the quarter.

“Our second half, we came out and did what we needed to do and had more urgency defensively,” Green said. “You know, guarded better and were more aggressive. It’s all about our defense, we just, we did not defend anyone, especially the first quarter.”

The Flyers continued to chip away over the remainder of the quarter, with Whalen contributing again with a 3-pointer and lay-up in the final few minutes to cut the deficit to 62-57 heading into the fourth quarter.

In the final quarter, the Flyers’ struggles at the free throw line continued (16-26 for the game) as Cook missed a pair of free throws which could have given the Flyers two more key points early in the fourth. 

“We do pressure free throws every day (in practice),” Green said. “And we talked about that, you know, at half and then we talked about it after the game, and we said the same thing.

“(We left) 10 points out there. We left a lot of points out, right there, you know, just make a few more free throws. Make a couple layups down the stretch. We missed a lot of layups, as well. So those are things that we can control and we need to do a better job of controlling the controllable.”

The defense locked down in the final stretch, but not before Colleen Neitzel knocked down a pair of threes to push the Zips’ lead to 73-63 with 6:30 left in the game.

A Giacone floater sent the Flyers into the final media timeout down 73-65 with 5:22 left in the game.

Akron did not make another field goal in the final 6:30, but the Flyers were almost as cold, relying on free throws and a Whalen lay-up to cut the deficit to 73-69 with 2:39 to play.

After bringing down a rebound, sophomore forward Mariah Perez was fouled. Akron’s Dawson then took a swipe at her face, and Perez retaliated with a shove. Both players were disqualified after review, and Cook stepped up for the free throws, splitting the pair to make it a 73-70 game.

After the game, Green said she will look at film to see exactly what happened, but her message to the team was to keep their cool. 

“Yeah, all I saw was, you know, Mariah got that rebound and went up and got fouled and I don’t know, I haven’t watched it on film yet. I don’t know what happened from there.

“But we need to remain and keep our cool we need to learn from that as well. Even if someone comes at you with a swipe, you can’t retaliate back and we got to just, you know, keep our cool in those situations. So another learning experience for for a young kid Mariah… you have to stay even keel when something like that happens.”

Akron then split a pair, and after a block by true freshman center Tenin Magassa (who finished with 4 blocks), the Zips called a timeout up four with 54.3 seconds remaining.

The Zips were unable to score on their possession, and Magassa was fouled at the other end. She made both free throws, cutting the deficit to 74-72 with 38 seconds left.

On the inbound, Neitzel got the ball, but pressure from Bradshaw forced her out of bounds, giving the Flyers the ball with 36.6 seconds left. 

Green called a timeout for UD, but the Flyers were unable to score on the possession, with Whalen missing a three, getting her own rebound, and missing the putback. Akron got the rebound and knocked down both free throws with 10.2 seconds left.

The Flyers, down 76-72, had a chance to cut into the deficit, but took up most of the clock. Giacone got a lay-up to go, but when the Zips were fouled after the inbound, just 0.1 seconds were left on the clock.

Akron split the last two free throws, and the Flyers did not even get a shot up, losing 77-74 to Akron in their home opener. 

Next, the Flyers (1-1) travel to Whalen’s hometown to face UNC-Charlotte on the road on Thursday at 4 p.m. 

The 49ers are 0-3, with losses to Appalachian State (74-68), Clemson (80-73) and Wake Forest (78-75). They faced North Carolina today.

This was the Flyers’ first loss at home since falling to UConn 75-37 on Nov. 26, 2019.

After COVID-19 concerns at Alabama A&M caused the cancellation of next Sunday’s 2 p.m. game, the Flyers are looking for a new opponent for their next home game.

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