Shepherd's Gabby Flinchum finished off a feed from Rachel Johnson with just 23 seconds left Monday night to snap a 70-70 tie and lift the visiting Lady Rams to a 73-70 upset of West Liberty at the ASRC.
It was a game of missed opportunities for the Hilltoppers (17-7, 15-5), who missed numerous point-blank scoring chances throughout the night but veteran head coach Lynn Ullom said West Liberty's 5-game winning streak came to an end at the other end of the court.
"We lost this game in the first half," said Ullom, whose team was coming off a double-digit road win at Fairmont on Saturday. "We played with such great defensive focus over there on Saturday but we were like the walking dead in practice yesterday and it really cost us in the first half. That's the worst we've played in a long time."
Shepherd led for most of the opening half, stretching the margin as high as 10 points during the latter stages of the stanza, but it was a different Hilltopper team that returned to the court after intermission.
West Liberty held the Rams scoreless for the first five minutes of the second half to go up 42-41 on a pair of Meghan Wiseman free throws but the Hilltoppers couldn't create any separation.
"We came out in the second half with a ton of energy," Ullom said, "but as soon as we got the lead, we became complacent. It was still better than what you saw in the first half but Shepherd was able to take advantage of it."
Neither team led by more than four points the rest of the night and the lead changed hands four times in the final three minutes.
The Hilltoppers took their final lead, 70-68, when Hillary Southworth finished off a baseline drive at the 2-minute mark.
The Rams tied it, 70-70, on an Alex Weakland basket with 1:13 to go and West Liberty missed lay ups on back-to-back possessions in the final minute to leave the door open for the visitors.
Coming off a timeout, Johnson turned the corner on a curl cut down the left side of the lane and found the 6-3 Flinchum flashing down the right side for the go-ahead lay up. Flinchum added a free throw with 1 second remaining to conclude the scoring.
"Give them credit," Ullom said. "They have some really talented players. That girl made a great dish to put them ahead when it was 70-70 but we have no one to blame but ourselves."
Wiseman had 24 points and 9 rebounds while Southworth stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals. Freshman post Kiki Simpson provided a boost off the bench with 8 points in 10 minutes of play but no other WLU player had more than 4 points.
Flinchum and Johnson paced Shepherd with 20 points each while Emily Daniel added 14 points.
"What makes this so disappointing is that we had a chance to lock up second place tonight and didn't get it done," Ullom said. "Now we probably have to win at Pitt-Johnstown on Thursday and that's been a very tough place for us over the years."
Thursday's tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. in Johnstown.