strongAlanna Grady and Evan Sporer, Beacon Staff/strong
The Emerson women’s basketball team’s co-captain Olivia DiNucci is a lethal three-point shooter. And not just by the standards of her coaches and teammates — DiNucci made the most three-point field goals in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) last season.
So after the junior political communication major missed her first four three-point attempts Tuesday in the Lions’ season opener against Plymouth State, she just kept shooting.
And then, she stopped missing.
DiNucci poured in a team-high 22 points, while knocking down five consecutive three-point shots as the Lions ran past Plymouth State in their season opener 62-51.
After graduating only one player last year, the Lions returned a core of five players, including junior co-captains Amy Sherman and DiNucci. With four freshmen joining the lineup, the Lions’ upperclassmen came through in a big way Tuesday.
“I was more anxious than nervous,” said freshman forward Catherine Cloutier, who played the first game of her collegiate career Tuesday.
Cloutier won the jump ball to start things off for Emerson, and then logged 30 minutes.
“It was shaky at the beginning,” she said, “but I think it went pretty well.”
The two teams kept even throughout most of the first half, with both sides making aggressive plays that led to a combined nine fouls in the first 20 minutes of play. Head coach Bill Gould noted that the Panthers were creating opportunities for shots and setting many screens, which made them tough to defend.
According to DiNucci, however, Plymouth State was not nearly as strong as it was last year.
“They were a completely different team,” DiNucci said. The Panthers’ roster, which consists of 15 players, includes nine returnees. “I thought they were better last year. We just had to focus on not playing down to their level.”
The Lions’ patience through a cold start eventually allowed them to gain momentum and pull away from their opponents. Junior guard Elissa Chojnicki’s three-point jump shot added an exclamation point to the final seconds of the first half and extended Emerson’s lead to 33-19, as it dropped in at the buzzer.
Though the Panthers stayed just as engaged in the second half, Emerson never allowed them to come within nine points of the lead. Cloutier and freshman forward Kristin Brice — both of whom, at 6-feet, are the Lions’ two tallest players — contributed to the team’s defense with two blocks each.
As the clock ticked down to the final minutes, Plymouth State head coach Lauren Lavigne became more animated, shouting at the referees and her players. The Panthers played with desperation, looking to draw fouls from the Lions and narrow the gap.
Emerson, however, took a more measured approach.
“We just had to stay calm,” said DiNucci, who was a rebound shy of a double-double. “When we stayed calm, we got what we wanted.”
According to Gould, it is this sort of mentality that the team’s newest members can learn from the upperclassmen.
“The freshmen we have are talented,” he said. “They all know how to play, but we’re still understanding how to blend everyone together. The older players will help them with balance, not just playing on the court but mentally off it, since they know what to expect.”
The Lions take to the court again in another non-conference game matchup at Wentworth tonight.
emGrady can be reached at email@example.com. Sporer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ ev_sporer./em