The Collegian
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Richmond hangs on to defeat Appalachian State, 88-78

Senior point guard Brittani Shells is already tired three games into the season. But she has a good reason to be tired.

Shells scored 28 points to lead the University of Richmond to a 88-78 victory against Appalachian State University Wednesday night at the Robins Center. Richmond was playing at home for the first time this season after opening its season 1-1 following a two-game road trip.

Shells came into the game averaging 29.5 points per game in her first two games this season. She was visibly tired at the end of the game against Appalachian State, often spending breaks in the game with her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath, and has played 107 minutes out of a possible 120.

Despite her fatigue, Shells was still able to make plays when her team needed them. She hit a jumper with 1:12 remaining in the game to stop Appalachian's late-game charge that cut Richmond's lead from 14 to six. Earlier during the second half, Shells came back after sitting for about one minute to help break the Mountaineers full-court press that had resulted in two Richmond turnovers in three possessions while Shells sat.

It was Richmond's third game in five days and has played in Cullowhee, N.C., and Johnsonville, Tenn., during that time. But Richmond coach Michael Shafer said that all the travel and play was not limited to Richmond.

"The reality is, I don't think it's much different than what anyone else is doing," Shafer said. "Look at Baylor [University] last night, they played four games in five days and played [No. 1] UConn on the road."

It has been a good early test of Shafer's new offensive system. He switched to a more up-tempo offense this year and it has had an early impact this season. The Spiders entered Wednesday's game averaging 81.5 points per game and set a season-high with 88 points.

But that shift in offensive styles has left the defense exposed. Shafer said that he has not been able to work on defense as much in practice this year.

"I wanted to play more uptempo, I wanted to put more points on the board and we've done that," Shafer said. "Unfortunately, the focus has been gone from the defensive end and I'll take responsibility for that. We've been dealing with it, the problem is it's hard to deal with it in the middle of the season."

The new offense has given players beside Shells the opportunity to score more and lessen the burden on Shells. Junior guard Abby Oliver scored 18 points in Wednesday night's game while senior Kara Powell added 14 points and senior center Crystal Goring contributed 13 points.

Having those secondary scorers is something that has been missing the past few years for the Spiders. In the past, the success of the Spiders was often tied to how much Shells would score. That balance has actually helped Shells score more and made the team more successful, Shells said.

"I just know that even though the other team may key on me, then I'll just dish to Abby or I may dish it to Sam [Bilney] just to show that they can knock down that shot," Shells said. "Eventually, they'll have to lay off of me and I can start to go score. They can't key on just one player and that helps a team be successful."

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Four freshmen made their home debut for Richmond. Two of them, Kristina Puthoff-King and Genevieve Okoro, played extensively for Richmond. Puthoff-King scored six points in 19 minutes of action but it was Okoro who had the biggest impact in the game. She scored five points and eight rebounds and also caused a number of loose balls.

"I want us to win and I'm excited to be out here on the floor," Okoro said. "I think that if I'm able to bring some positive energy and bring our team up, it's a good thing."

Okoro did show some inconsistent play typical for a freshman. During a three-play stretch in the first half, Okoro was responsible for a turnover that lead to a Mountaineer layup, hustled down the court to get a weak-side offensive rebound and putback but then fouled a Mountaineer on a layup that led to a three-point play.

Despite those negative plays, Shafer was pleased with the play of Okoro and often left her in to work her way through those mistakes.

Richmond doesn't get an opportunity to rest yet with North Carolina State University coming to the Robins Center on Saturday. The Wolfpack made the NCAA Tournament last year but Shells said that the Spiders will be ready.

"No [time to] rest but that's the rules of the game," Shells said. "That's why you put in that work in the preseason, so we can fight."

Contact staff writer Andrew Prezioso at andrew.prezioso@richmond.edu

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