Leading Gannon University by two points with under 10 seconds to play in the fourth quarter, Slippery Rock head coach Bobby McGraw drew up an inbounds play which would make sure redshirt senior guard Ciara Patterson would get the ball for the last time in her career.
“We ran that last set for her to get the basketball because we knew she would step up and make those free throws just like she did,” said McGraw.
After being fouled with three seconds left, Patterson sank two clutch free throws—the final points of her collegiate career—to ice the game.
Despite the emotionally charged, 71-67, victory over Gannon, the Slippery Rock women’s basketball team did not do enough to qualify for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs and the careers of Patterson and senior forward Morgan Henderson came to an end Saturday afternoon in Morrow Field House.
“I wasn’t ready to be done,” Patterson said. “I wish that I could keep playing, I wish that we had a shot at the playoffs, I wish it didn’t have to end.”
Due to a three-way tie between The Rock (12-16, 9-12 PSAC), the Golden Knights (13-16, 9-12) and the University of Pitt-Johnstown in the league standing, The Rock found themselves without control of their own destiny. A Pitt-Johnstown loss to Mercyhurst University on Wednesday effectively ended the season for SRU.
McGraw knew before the game began that the Green and White had been eliminated from playoff contention but that did not stop him from pushing the squad to end the season on a high note.
“Make sure that we end the season the right way. Make sure that everyone knows that the wrong team is heading in with the sixth seed,” McGraw explained. “Gannon is well-coached, they’ve got great players and great kids but we’re the better basketball team.”
While junior guard Brooke Hinderliter led the team with 23 points by going seven of 17 from the field, Patterson was the catalyst in willing The Rock to an emotional win on Senior Day.
When the Golden Knights took a one-point lead with 7:39 left in the fourth quarter, Patterson went down the court on the next offensive possession and sank a deep three-pointer to regain the lead.
Patterson was there once again to hit an off-balance jump shot to retake the lead following a Golden Knights’ layup one minute later. The Rock never trailed again.
“We’ve been through a lot here. I love [Ciara] to death, I’d take 15 of her. I love players who take everything personally, she wears her emotions on her sleeve—sometimes a little too much—like myself. She was very emotional during the last timeout, knowing her career was about to end,” said an emotional McGraw.
Patterson scored 13 points and swiped three steals. Per usual, her three three-pointers paced SRU. Sophomore guard Daeja Quick chipped in 14 points to go along with six assists and six rebounds. Henderson scored four points and pulled in a team-leading eight rebounds in the final game of her career.
McGraw stressed how hard the Senior Day presentation was before the game as the two-woman class of seniors has done so much for the program, not just as seniors but during their four years at SRU.
However, moving forward into next season, McGraw is encouraged by what he has to look forward to. Freshman guard Olivia Fusaro saw her minutes steadily increase as her rookie season wore on and will be no stranger to extended looks next season.
“Her minutes will increase ten-fold heading into next year with Ciara Patterson graduating. Olivia will step up and challenge for big minutes. Olivia Fusaro does not get nervous; she doesn’t get scared when she takes the floor. She had 15 and five against IUP. She can get to the rim, she can shoot it, she’s going to be a great player for us in the future,” said McGraw.
While the season ended earlier than McGraw and the squad would have hoped, McGraw pointed to the highlights of the season: beating Bloomsburg, breaking the Cal curse and having a fun time with a great group of women.
Despite the unceremonious end to the season, McGraw has his sights set on August 28.
“Minute wise, we return four starters. Madison Johnson, minute-wise, is a starter. We return Daeja, Brooke, Maddie on the wing. LeAnn Gibson at the four, who didn’t even play today. We beat Gannon without our starting four. Karrington Ketterer has been playing fantastic basketball, and Olivia is coming back next year. I’m already looking forward to next year. Can’t wait until August 28. First day of preseason workouts,” McGraw stated.
The ultimate goal of many teams is to win championships but to many women playing Division II college basketball, just being able to get on the court and play the game they love is reward enough.
Ciara Patterson considers herself lucky to be a part of that group.
“I met a great coach and great teammates who are very supportive and push me nonstop,” said Patterson. “I enjoyed every minute of being here and playing basketball here at Slippery Rock.”