Lady Lions: One That Got Away
Wesleyan rallies to edge SAGU, 63-58
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Monday night's Red River Athletic Conference showdown between metroplex rivals was another classic. As is usually the case, the outcome left only team smiling. It wasn't the home team. In the recent history between these teams, that seems to be the one thing you can count on; the visitor has a pleasant ride home.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University and Texas Wesleyan University went down to the wire again, giving fans all the suspense they could handle. Wesleyan, behind a dramatic rally, stunned the Lady Lions with a 63-58 win to earn a split of the season series. In their previous meeting in Fort Worth it was Southwestern stealing one at the end, scoring four points in the last two seconds to escape with a 59-56 triumph.
The Lady Rams closed the game with a remarkable comeback that began just when it appeared they were going down. SAGU had built their largest lead at 55-46 with 5:50 remaining. Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian) had just stroked back-to-back three-pointers during an 8-2 Lady Lions run.
Wesleyan Women Close with 17-3 run
The storyline could have been about Southwestern seizing control down the stretch, which they are known for, or for their forgettable final six minutes. Depending on one's point of view, it was either the Rams resilient rally, or SAGU's breakdown. In succumbing to Wesleyan, the Lions were outscored 17-3 in those pivotal moments.
"We just didn't finish," said an obviously disappointed SAGU head coach Arlon Beadles.
It has been said there are "two things that rob people of their peace of mind: work unfinished and work not yet begun."
In the final 5:50, Wesleyan's recent transfer from UT-Arlington, 6-foot junior Veronica Mergeson, scored six points and pulled down three big rebounds. Brittany White added five points and Shayla Moore four, including a critical three-ball.
White, a 5'7 guard, gave the Rams the lead, 59-58, when she converted a pair from the free throw line with 1:55 to play. The Lady Lions missed a 10-foot baseline jumper on their next possession and were called for travelling during their next trip down court.
Still, SAGU had a chance to tie the score. Trailing 60-58, they benefitted from a questionable call following a clutch rebound by Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster). Bruner had three rebounds, one she cashed in for a putback deuce during the Rams' rally. She was the lone bright spot in the closing minutes.
Not so pleasant sequel
It was Bruner who won the first game at Wesleyan. Fouled with 0:01.7 showing on the game clock, she made two foul shots to give SAGU a 57-56 lead. Jones intercepted the inbounds pass, was fouled, and concerted two free throws to seal the deal. There was a similar chance on Monday.
The officials awarded SAGU two free throws with six ticks remaining. This time, however, fate didn't smile on Team Purp. The first shot rimmed out. The second didn't even count as a lane violation circumvented.
Wesleyan added a free throw, and, after a turnover, Octavia Mullins wristed a jumper at the buzzer that meant something. Should the teams end the season tied, the Rams will hold a two-point edge in the series thanks to her shot.
Summary of Sudden Setback
In the final 5:50, the Lady Lions committed four turnovers, made just one of six shots, and missed two of three free throws. Meanwhile the Rams made the most of their opportunities, sinking 8-of-11 from the charity stripe and three of their seven shots.
Ram guards Kristi Alexander and White rose to the occasion down the stretch. Their quickness on defense, coupled with their efficient control of the ball on the offensive end put them in position to win a game they had to have. A loss would've dropped them two games behind SAGU, who would've all but clinched second with a win.
The defeat dropped Southwestern into a second place tie with Texas Wesleyan. SAGU is now 16-6 overall and 11-3 in the RRAC. The Lady Lions were rated #37 in the country in Monday's NAIA Coaches Poll. Wesleyan, winners of five straight, is 19-3 and 11-3.
Both teams trail Langston University (18-4, 13-1). The LU Lions, ranked #16, rolled past LSU-Shreveport 65-47 on Monday.
A Tale of Two Halves
It was a tale of two halves. Southwestern held the upper hand throughout the second half. Jones, the two-time All-RRAC forward and 2010 NAIA All-American scored 18 of her game high 24 points after intermission.
The Rams were in the lead for much of the first half, opening a seven point lead on two occasions, the last at 23-16 on a Moore triple with 5:03 to go before intermission. Led by Stephanie Hawkins (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS), who had 13 of her 18 points before recess, SAGU roared to take a 28-26 lead the break.
The 12-5 run was highlighted by a rainbow bomb by Hawkeye that knotted the score at 24. The Lions went on top when a Bruner rebound keyed a transition, pull-up jumper by the Hawk for the lead, 28-26, with seventeen seconds remaining.
Team and Player Totes
Jones and Hawkins netted 24 and 18. Jones had a season-best 10 rebounds. Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS) added six points.
Wesleyan placed three in double digits; White 16, Mergeson 12 and Moore with 11. Nicole Terral tossed in a pair of threes, totaling eight points. Mergeson was the player of the game. Her 14 boards enabled the Rams to grab a 37-31 edge in rebounds.
The Rams held a slight margin in shooting, making 37% of their 48 shots to SAGU's 35% of their 49. Wesleyan swished 22-of-30 free throws; SAGU made 20-of-28. Both teams made 13 turnovers.
Next Up: Wiley Wildcats, Saturday, 2:00pm
The Lady Lions have eight games left in the regular season; five of them on the road. This Saturday, February 5, Southwestern entertains Wiley College (7-13, 4-9 RRAC) for a 2:00pm matinee. The Wildcats, fresh off a heartbreaking loss of their own, 67-63 to Bacone College (14-6, 8-6 RRAC), will come to Waxahachie hungry to avenge the loss. They are one game out of eighth place in their effort to qualify for the Red River tournament.
Coach Janet Eaton's team is playing without Brittany Smith-Banks (17.9 ppg), their 5'7 senior guard. She is out with a high ankle sprain. They have dropped five of their last six games, four of them by less than ten points. They have the highest shooting percentage in the RRAC.
Filling in for her has been Kyniddia Purdy, a 5'5 guard. She had 16 against Bacone. Purdy is averaging 13.2 ppg in the past four games and has reached double-digits seven times in her last nine outings.
When the two teams met earlier this season, the Lions built a 34-22 halftime lead and coasted to a 68-56 win in Marshall. SAGU had four players reach double figures; Jefferson 15, Jones 15, Bruner 14 and Hawkins 13.