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Women’s basketball falls short against East Carolina in home opener

The Cavaliers overcame a 17-point halftime deficit but lost 54-51 on a game-winner

<p>For the second game in a row, sophomore forward Meg Jefferson led the team in points with 16 against the Lady Pirates.</p>

For the second game in a row, sophomore forward Meg Jefferson led the team in points with 16 against the Lady Pirates.

After losing to Central Florida on the road Wednesday, Virginia women’s basketball travelled back to Charlottesville to take on East Carolina. The Cavaliers (0-2, 0-0 ACC) fell behind early and despite fighting back in the second half, lost after East Carolina graduate student guard Justice Gee made a game-winning three-pointer with seven seconds left.

Virginia’s starting lineup changed slightly from Wednesday. Freshman forward Deja Bristol replaced graduate student guard Tihana Stojsavljevic, who did not play.

Unlike their game against the Knights, the Cavaliers struggled on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court to begin the game. East Carolina opened the game on a 16-point run and was up 19-2 after the first quarter while Virginia had 11 turnovers and missed its first nine shots. Bristol scored Virginia’s only points of the quarter, making a layup with just 59 seconds remaining.

In the second quarter, the Cavaliers improved their play — sophomore forward Meg Jefferson scored four points and freshman guard Kaydan Lawson scored five of her own. After facing a 21-point deficit, Virginia went on a 9-2 run and closed the score to 27-13 with 2:04 left in the half. 

However, the Cavaliers were not able to make any more ground in the first half. Both teams scored 13 points each in the second quarter, so the Cavaliers’ continued to trail by 17 points at the half. 

Despite being down 17, the Cavaliers refused to give up. Jefferson scored the team’s first six points of the third quarter — finding success driving to the basket. With 7:11 left in the quarter, Virginia was down 35-21. The Cavaliers subsequently went on an 11-2 run, which include a pair of three-pointers from sophomore guard Amandine Toi. By the end of the penultimate quarter, Virginia had cut the Lady Pirates’ lead to 42-36.

“I think it started off rocky like what’s been said before, but we really fought through,” Coach Tina Thompson said. “We sort of had some words in the locker room that I think motivated us to keep going and really get that fight.”

The Cavaliers continued their strong play in the fourth quarter. With 6:50 left in the game, Toi made a layup to cut East Carolina’s lead to just two points. For the next five minutes, the teams went back-and-forth as the Lady Pirates clung to their small lead.

Down just two points with 37 seconds left to play, Virginia forced junior forward Tiara Chambers to turn the ball over. Lawson stepped up on the subsequent possession, drawing a foul and draining both of her free throws to tie the game — the only point during the entire game when East Carolina did not hold the lead.

However, the Lady Pirates made a three-pointer with 6.6 seconds remaining in the game, reclaiming a three-point lead, and graduate student forward Emily Maupin missed a contested shot to end the game. The loss was Virginia’s second of the season and its first at home.

For the second game in a row, Jefferson led the team in points. She scored 16 for the Cavaliers on very efficient shooting, making 7-of-9 from the field. She also hauled in a team-high eight rebounds — five of which were offensive boards.

“I'm sort of focusing on rebounds,” Jefferson said. “And I think scoring just comes second to that. If it's there, it's there, but my main motivation is to help the team out and not so much as to get those points.”

Beyond Jefferson, several other Cavaliers had impressive days as well. Toi was second on the team in points with 12 and sophomore guard Carole Miller added eight points, seven rebounds and four assists. Both Toi and Miller played the entire game.

The Cavaliers once again struggled with turnovers, committing 25 over the course of the game, which East Carolina converted into 24 points. However, Virginia also shot 40 percent from the field — a significant improvement from Wednesday’s contest against Central Florida. That being said, the Cavaliers were outshot by the Lady Pirates by 18, mostly because they gave up 21 offensive rebounds.

“We're going to continue to encourage them but at the same time, we do have to be honest, we do have to be realistic and we do have to talk about the things that in any contest will bite us in the backside,” Thompson said. “Giving up so many offensive boards and you know not boxing out and giving them second chance points, when you defend the way that we did, you have to finish it with the rebound.”

Despite the disappointing result, there were positive takeaways from the game. The Cavaliers showed grit and tenacity, refusing to quit despite a nightmare first quarter. Especially with a young and inexperienced squad, Thompson will look to build on this.

“We're also going to talk about the positives again and how they fought back and that they didn't give up,” Thompson said. “I mean the way that fourth quarter went we could have easily just kind of bowed our heads and gave in and we didn't do that. They continue to fight, and they took direction and adjustments and sometimes that's really difficult for a young team.”

The Cavaliers are back in action Thursday against James Madison at John Paul Jones Arena. Tip off is at 7:00 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ACC Network.