Two hundred days after VCU introduced Beth O’Boyle as the new women’s basketball head coach, the O’Boyle era officially tipped off against Wagner College on Friday, Nov. 14.
It was a night of firsts: the first time since the 2011-12 season that the Siegel Center would host a season opener, the first glimpse of a team that exceeded expectations last year by going 22-10, the first test for how O’Boyle’s team would respond to the man-to-man defense in a game, and the first time in four seasons the team would take the floor without their scoring leader from last year, Robyn Parks. The new look Rams were searching for an identity against the Wagner College Seahawks, and after 40 minutes and an 84-75 win, the Rams are on their way to defining it.
The Rams opened the game with a 3-0 deficit, going scoreless in the first three minutes of play. Sophomore guard Monnazjea Finney-Smith would score the first of nine first half points, and 18 overall, for the Rams and minutes later a three-point field goal by sophomore guard Isis Thorpe netted O’Boyle’s team their first lead of the game, 6-4. The Rams would score 13 unanswered for a 19-4 lead that would be their largest of the game. However, Wagner would not go away quietly, closing the gap throughout. The Seahawks would eventually tie the game at 32, but a floater by sophomore guard/forward Camille Calhoun followed by an inbound deflection that turned into a quick layup put the Rams up four with less than two minutes to go before the break. Both teams traded scores in the remaining minutes resulting in a two point lead at the half for VCU, 40-38.
One of the reasons Wagner was able to fight their way back in the game was turnovers. Both sides had double digit turnovers in the first half, VCU with 11 and Wagner having 12.
“For us it’s a process,” O’Boyle said regarding the ups and downs of the game. “I thought we did some really good things at times, we’re all on the same page. But also you’re watching the first game and you’re seeing some things that you need to work on too, but overall I thought their effort was great.”
After a sluggish first half that O’Boyle attributed to first-game jitters, she said she felt the team really responded in the second half with better ball control. The Rams created more turnovers with their defensive pressure forcing 14 second half turnovers. The Rams also settled for less outside shooting, opting instead to feed the ball inside to Calhoun. The 6-foot Bowie, Maryland native put up 13 second half points, finishing the game with a double-double, 21 points and 16 rebounds.
“She (Calhoun) was great for us on the boards,” O’Boyle said. “It’s one of those things that’s going to be hard for us because of our size but she got 16 rebounds and it’s great when she can get the ball off the glass. She can really push it. That initiates our transition and our speed.”
Even with Wagner’s leading scorer Jasmine Nwajei’s 34 points on the night, the Rams would eventually pull away in the final minutes. After the Seahawks got the game within six points with less than a minute left to play, a short range jumper by Calhoun, followed by another inbounded deflection resulted in a layup that put the game out of reach. VCU won the game 85-74.
It wasn’t quite the 26-point drumming the Rams distributed when the teams met last season, but it was still a victory and the first one for O’Boyle at VCU.
“I think it was exciting,” O’Boyle said. “You know I think you could see a little bit of our nerves with our team, a little up and down, but they played really hard. We knew Wagner was going to be a tough test for us and I’m excited we got the first win.”
Sophomore guard Keira Robinson tallied eight points and four assists. Redshirt sophomore Chadarryl Clay, who transferred from Auburn University, finished with seven points and seven assists. O’Boyle’s initial signee, freshman Ashley Pegram recorded nine points in her collegiate debut.
The Rams played a second home game against Presbyterian College on Sunday, Nov. 16, but results were not final in time for production. The Rams will play six games on the road before returning to the Siegel Center on Dec. 14 against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“We have a crazy schedule to start the year,” O’Boyle said. “So many games back to back and it’s going to be a good test for us to make sure we have our legs and our energy and are able to play at the pace we want to.”