CHARLESTON, SC - In their final game in the Maroon and White, College of Charleston seniors Alyssa Frye, Afreyea Tolbert and Jill Brown combined for 45 points 16 rebounds and 10 assists, but it wasn't enough as the Ladyjacks of Stephen F Austin State University secured their place in the championship game of the Women's Basketball Invitational, with a 78-74 win on Thursday night at TD Arena.
The loss marks the conclusion of a highly-successful season for the Cougars who – in their first season in the Colonial Athletic Association – won 19 games, finished third in the conference, defeated four post season teams from a year ago and advanced to the semifinals of both the CAA Championship and the WBI.
The Cougars end the season with a record of 19-15; the third best mark in the programs division-1 era.
Also playing well for The College against the Ladyjacks was junior center Mikaela Hopkins, who grabbed 10 rebounds and dropped in eight points. Freshman phenom Bre Bolden also managed double-figures, scoring 12 on the night.
The Ladyjacks of Stephen F. Austin – who shared the regular season crown in the Southland Conference and were just one game away from the NCAA tournament – jumped on the Cougars early in the first half, talking a 10-3 lead at the 17:27 mark, courtesy of two Daylyn Harris free throws.
With the Cougars struggling to knock down shots, the Ladyjacks took their largest lead of the half with 13:16 to play, going up 20-10 following a transition three pointer from freshman Brentney Branch.
The Cougars clawed their way back in to the game, going on a 7-0 run to close the Ladyjack advantage to just three, but back to back buckets from the Southland Conference defensive player of the year, Porsha Roberts, put Stephen F. Austin back up 7, with 8:33 to go in the opening stanza.
From there, both teams continued to trade baskets before a late free throw from Tolbert with just 24 seconds left, cut the deficit to six, 40-34, at the halftime break.
Both teams shot the ball well in the opening twenty minutes, especially the Ladyjacks, who hit 6-of-10 from three-point land and 53.3% from the field, while the Cougars shot at a 40% clip, knocking down 3-of-6 from behind the arc.
Stephen F. Austin again came out firing in the second half, extending their lead from six to19, utilizing a 17-4 run over a nine minute stretch to begin the final frame. Junior Ladyjack forward Tierney Henderson, who finished the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds, paced the visitors over the crucial stretch of play knocking down two three-pointers late in the shot clock to give Stephen F. Austin a commanding 57-38 lead with 11:15 remaining.
Still down 13 points with just 2:16 left in the game, the Cougars came storming back.
Consecutive baskets from Tolbert and a deep trey from junior Erin Hall cut the Ladyjack lead to seven with 59 seconds to play, before a steal from Bolden led to Christy Hewatt being fouled on a three point attempt with just 34 seconds left. Hewatt hit two of three from the charity stripe to make it a 74-69 game.
After Henderson and Tolbert traded baskets, a clutch three-pointer from Bre Bolden with 14 seconds left on the clock, made it a one possession game, 77-74.
Daylyn Harris then gifted the Cougars an opportunity to tie the game after being fouled on the ensuing possession and missing both free throws, but with time ticking down, the Cougars could not muster a shot and turned the ball over with just seconds remaining to send the Ladyjacks through to the WBI Championship game.
POST GAME QUOTES:
College of Charleston Head Coach Natasha Adair
On her team's season ending loss to Stephen F. Austin…
"I'm very proud of this team. I'm proud of the way we fought, the way we played and the effort we gave. These seniors have left an indelible legacy that sets a high mark for the underclassmen. I'm very thankful to them. I'm also very thankful to our administration and to our fans, who have been tremendous this season in their support of our journey."
On the value of playing in the postseason….