Cougars Lose Heart-Breaker in National Quarterfinals
The ICC women’s basketball team had their ticket all but punched to advance to the Final Four but instead lost a heart-breaking, self-inflicted 86-80 decision in overtime to Union County on Thursday night.
The Cougars were outscored 27-11 in the final period, holding leads of 69-59 lead with 3:22 left in the game and 69-63 with 1 minute left, squandering both of those leads as the Owls scored on their last five straight possessions to force overtime and then took all the momentum with them into the extra session to get the win.
Union took an early 5-0 lead but ICC got on track with two Summer Stoewer free throws and two baskets by Emma Henderson to take the lead at 6-5, a lead they would have the entire game until the end of regulation when UC tied the game at the buzzer. Henderson nailed two 3-pointers, with assists from Kathy Pinnock-Branford and Josi Becker, and Marquitta Easley and Stoewer added layups to give ICC a 20-9 lead after the first period.
The Cougars continued to build their lead as they handled the Owls’ pressure and played solid defense, limiting UC to one shot and forcing turnovers. On the offensive side of things, Abby Coates, Pinnock-Branford, and Stoewer scored to help keep the double-digit lead at 30-20 with 4:20 remaining. Henderson splashed in another three-ball, while Pinnock-Branford added four free throws to give ICC a 35-20 edge. Coates scored on another layup, assisted by Pinnock-Branford, and ICC held a 39-24 lead heading into halftime.
Stoewer had an old-fashioned 3-point play and Pinnock-Branford a basket to keep the lead at 46-30 to get things going. The Cougars took their largest lead of the night at 54-35 with 4:36 to play in the third quarter behind a jumper and 3-pointer by Stoewer, but UC countered with an 8-2 run to keep within striking distance. Stoewer added another three-pointer and found Coates for a score to help the Cougars forge a 60-44 lead heading into the final stanza.
Union scored five straight points to open the quarter to draw to within 60-49, but Stoewer and Easley answered with layups to keep the lead at 64-49. UC then hit a 3-pointer to draw to within 64-52 with 6:10 to play, but Henderson hit a basket and then Becker added two free throws, keeping the Cougar lead at 69-59 lead with 3:22 to play. Neither team scored over the next minute, and with the Cougars running a possession, were called for a questionable offensive foul in the paint with 2:27 left, to which UC answered with a field goal to draw to within 69-61.
ICC ran a possession and missed a 3-pointer late in the shot clock, but the Cougars were fouled going for the rebound (they were not in the bonus) to maintain possession. ICC missed another 3-pointer and UC promptly came down and drove the baseline for an easy score to cut the Cougar lead to 69-63 with 1:07 to play. The Cougars attacked on offense but were called for another charge with 1 to play and the Owls hit a 3-pointer to draw to within 69-66 with 40 seconds left.
ICC came up the floor but inexplicably threw an errant pass, which the Owls cashed in for another 3-pointer from the baseline to tie the score at 69-all. ICC called timeout and ran a set play, but did not have the look they wanted, so called another timeout with 5.4 seconds. Coates broke toward the ball and hit a cutting Stoewer for the go-ahead layup with 2.5 seconds to go up 71-69. The lead was short-lived, however, as UC called timeout and advanced the ball and inbounded to their point guard who drove the right baseline and hit a layup that fell in at the buzzer to force overtime at 71-all.
The Cougars got two straight defensive stops to start the overtime which turned into Easley layups to take a 75-71 lead but UC quickly drew even on four free throws and and converted an old-fashioned 3-point play to take a 78-75 lead. They hit another basket before Easley scored on a runner to draw ICC to within 80-77 with :56 seconds remaining, but the Owls scored again to take an 82-77 advantage with 20 seconds left.
ICC managed a 3-pointer with :01 second left, but it was too little too late, and UC celebrated their improbable comeback and victory. Final stats showed ICC being whistled for 30 total fouls, while UC only had 15 and got twice as many free throws on the night at 27-37, including a whopping 25-33 in the second half and overtime, to ICC’s 16-19 effort getting only seven total attempts in the second half and overtime.
Faulkner (5 reb, 2 pts) Stoewer (26 pts, 7 reb, 5 asts) Pinnock-Branford (10 pts, 7 reb, 5 asts) Coates (12 pts, 5 reb) Easley (10 pts) Becker (2 pts, 2 reb, 2 asts) Hare (2 pts) Ward (8 reb) Henderson (16 pts)
Tonight’s loss broke the 32-game program record winning streak and moves the overall Cougar record to 32-2. The national tournament is double elimination, so the Cougars will have a chance to keep their season alive in the consolation bracket against Sinclair Community College (Dayton, OH) in a 3:00 pm contest on Friday. If they win, they will play for 5th place on Saturday, and if they lose to Sinclair, the season will come to a close. Alex Staab will have free audio at mixlr.com/StaabAlex or pay-per-view is available for $4.99.
Photo courtesy of the NJCAA.