…It's Where You Finish

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2013

CONWAY, SC – Picked to finish 11th before the season began, and seeded seventh entering the Big South Tournament, the Longwood women's basketball team saw their run through the BSC Tourney with a 54-45 loss to Liberty University on Sunday afternoon.

The Lancers, who were battling tired legs in their fourth game in five days, were unable to overcome Liberty's across-the-board height advantage and poor shooting on the offensive end to cap their Cinderella run to their first BSC Tournament title on their first try.

For Liberty, it was the Flames' 15th league tournament title in the last 17 seasons.

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“They played outstanding basketball all year long. They deserved every amount of success they got,” said LU head coach Bill Reinson. “They play basketball the right way…We're playing on Sunday. We didn't get it done, but if anybody saw those shirts in the stands, we were picked 11th in the league, and I think we proved we were a little bit better than that.”

A three-pointer by senior guard Erin Neal tied the game at five apiece, and helped the Lancers get off to a strong start. A layup by Chelsea Coward with 14:55 left in the half gave Longwood a 12-8 lead.

Liberty, however tied the contest at 12 apiece on a jumper by Sadalia Ellis, and took the lead for good with 11:31 left on a pair of made free throws by Ashley Rinninger.

Liberty worked out to a nine-point lead, and was up 27-18 on a layup by Tolu Omotola, before Longwood cut the Liberty advantage to four points at 27-23 with 1:28 left on a jumper by Raven Williams and three points from Khalilah Ali.

“We had a lot of fight in us. As seniors, we were playing for one more game, and we had a great group of freshmen that were right there with us,” said senior Chelsea Coward. “We went into the locker room [at halftime] knowing we had a shot.”

Down 29-23 at the break, Longwood cut Liberty's lead to four points at 29-25 on a jumper by Crystal Smith, and again trailed by four following a Daeisha Brown jumper with 17:53 left, but Liberty ran out to a 15-point advantage at 46-31 with 9:26 left on a made foul shot by Katelyn Adams.

Liberty was able to preserve a double-digit lead the rest of the way, until the Lancers hit a couple of three-point shots in the final seconds to cut the final margin back to nine.

“We weren't really looking to keep it to a game played in the 50s,” said Reinson. “We took enough shots to score about 130. They just weren't falling. I think our defense did do an outstanding job of containing them, and we played well defensively and followed the game plan, and that gave us a chance at the end.”

“It came down to we missed shots and they made them,” said Neal, with a little chuckle at the simplicity of her statement.

Longwood was led in scoring by Coward, who had 14 points on the afternoon to go along with seven rebounds, while Neal scored nine on the day. Elkington and Williams added five apiece. Elkington and Neal posted three steals each, as well. As a team, the Lancers shot 27 percent (15-55) from the floor, including 25 percent (6-24) from beyond the arc, and 82 percent (9-11) from the line.

Liberty was paced by Omotola with 16 total points, while Rininger added 10 points. Devon Brown logged a team- and game-high 13 rebounds, as well. As a whole, the Flames shot 36 percent (19-53) from the field, 27 percent (3-11) from three-point territory and 54 percent (13-24) from the foul line.

Longwood 54, Radford 51

The No. 7 seed Longwood University women's basketball team led by as many as 11 in the first half, but faced a comeback situation late in the game before sealing the 54-51 victory against in-state foe and No. 6 seed Radford University in a semifinal thriller in Saturday's semifinal round.

Neal led three double-digit scorers for the Lancers with 16 points.

The outcome came down to the final five minutes of the ballgame, as the Longwood advantage that had stood for the duration of the game was erased and Radford took its first and largest lead of the night at 49-46 with 5:19 still to play.

Brown came through in the clutch with four consecutive points by way of a layup and a pair of free throws to put Longwood back on top at 50-49 with just over four minutes to go. On the next possession, Coward threw up the initial shot that missed, but collected her own rebound and banked in the second-chance layup as she fell to the ground, extending LU's buffer to three at 52-49. The Highlanders responded quickly, hitting a jumper to make it a one-point game.

Longwood controlled the ball with just one minute left, but a missed opportunity gave Radford the ball. With seconds left, RU raced to its offensive end to set up a play, but Neal chased down the ball handler, and in a last ditch effort to retain the lead, slapped the ball out of the opposition's hands into the open arms of Brown, who held on tight.

The Highlanders were forced to foul with four seconds on the clock, sending Brown to the line to convert on both ends of the one and one and secure the 54-51 victory.

Longwood went to work early in the first half, shooting 50 percent (13-36) from the floor, to establish a 36-27 advantage at the break. The squads were tied on three occasions early on, with the last at 11-11 with less than 13 minutes remaining in the first period, but Smith converted on a pair of free throws and Neal drained a deep three, sparking a 13-4 run that put the Lancers ahead, 24-15 at 6:23 in the first. Radford responded with 10 of the next 15 points to cut the deficit to just four at 29-25, but Longwood ended the first on a 7-2 run to create a nine-point buffer.

The Highlanders hit back-to-back layups coming out of the break to make it a two-possession game at 36-31, but Smith and Neal got the Lancers back on track with a 40-31 advantage at 17:24. The Highlanders made the game the thrilling one it became by mounting a 15-6 run to knot the score at 46-46 with just under six minutes to play.

In addition to Neal's 16 points, the co-captain added a team-best four steals. Brown and Coward added to the offensive effort with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Coward logged team highs with three blocks and seven rebounds, as well. As a team, the Lancers shot 33 percent (18-54) from the floor, including 23 percent (3-13) from beyond the arc, and 79 percent (15-19) from the line.

Radford was paced by a double-double effort from Victoria Hamilton with 14 points and 11 boards. Breshara Gordon tallied 13 points, as well. As a whole, the Highlanders shot 31 percent (19-61) from the field, 17 percent (1-6) from three-point territory and 63 percent (12-19) from the foul line.

Longwood 79, Winthrop 67

In Friday's quarterfinal game against No. 2 seeded Winthrop, the Lancers used a 19-0 run late in the second half to surge ahead and earn a 79-67 quarterfinal victory over the Eagles.

Longwood was paced by four double-digit scorers in the thrilling battle, including Smith with a team-best 18 points. Coward added 17 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, tallying her 11th double-double of the season.

“This was the epitome of a team win,” said Reinson. “There probably should be four or five players sitting here beside me. It was a great team effort. Winthrop is a talented team, and they do so many things well. Coach Cook does a great job with that program. What helped us was the fact that we got them back in January, and that gave us confidence.”

Longwood opened the game with a deep three from the corner from Smith, but Winthrop retaliated with seven straight points to take an early advantage. The Lancers pulled within two thanks to a jumper from Brown, but WU would hit a pair of layups and a three before Longwood would score again on a bucket from the paint by Ali, making it a 14-7 contest with 13:41 remaining in the first half. The squads traded buckets before Longwood hit eight-straight points, including back-to-back threes from Neal and Elkington, to cut the deficit to just one at 18-17 with 10:27 still to go in the period. Winthrop followed with five consecutive buckets, taking its largest lead of the contest, up 29-17, at 6:23.

With just over four minutes to go, Coward drained a jumper from beyond the arc, sparking a flurry of threes for Longwood, as Smith and freshman Raven Williams would follow with one apiece and Coward would hit another, to cut the deficit to just one at 33-32 with 1:37 left in the first. The Eagles responded with the last five points of the half, taking a slim, 38-32 advantage into the break.

The Lancers were aggressive coming out of halftime and threatened once again to take the lead after scoring 10 of the first 15 points of the second half, making it a 43-42 WU lead with 15:32 still to go.

The Eagles would not relinquish their advantage just yet, as the home squad quickly regained a six-point edge at 50-44 with just over 14 minutes left in the contest. The Lancers continued to attack, but Winthrop maintained at least a one-possession margin, which included its largest lead of the half at 58-50 with more than 10 minutes remaining. Longwood would not back down, however, pulling within four at 62-58 before Smith converted on her first free throw and missed the second, but chased down the rebound to lay-in the bucket. The three-point play from the senior standout ignited a 19-0 Lancer run that spanned almost seven minutes, giving the squad its first lead since the opening basket at 77-62 with less than 30 seconds to play. Winthrop tallied five points in the final seconds, but Longwood held on to take the 79-67, come-from-behind victory.

In addition to her 18 points, Smith pulled down six rebounds and added six assists, as well. Williams (13 points) and Ali (7 points) combined for 20 points off the bench for Longwood. Those bench points proved to be pivotal in the victory, outscoring the Winthrop bench, 20-0, despite going only seven deep, compared to nine for the higher seed. Williams also logged a personal-best six assists. Brown rounded out the double-digit scorers for LU with 10 points. The Lancers' 12 three-point field goals, which marked a new season high, tied the program's single-game record (since 2002-03) and was just two away from tying the Big South Tournament record, as well. As a team, the Lancers shot 40 percent (24-60) from the floor, including 46 percent (12-26) from beyond the arc, and 61 percent (19-31) from the line.

Winthrop was paced by Dequesha McClanahan with a game-high 23 points. Aliyah Kilpatrick added 20 points in the outing, as well. As a whole, the Eagles shot 37 percent (27-73) from the field, 28 percent (5-18) from three-point territory and 62 percent (8-13) from the line.