STANDISH, Maine – Saint Joseph’s College (23-4) edged Johnson & Wales University (19-8), 91-90 in double-overtime, in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Women’s Basketball Tournament Semifinal at the Harold Alfond Center on Thursday night.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
In a contest featuring 14 lead changes and a whopping 27 tie scores where neither squad held a lead greater than five points, it seemed likely that the game would be decided in the closing seconds. This is precisely what happened, but several times over by both teams, before Saint Joseph’s managed to just barely pull through with three free throws in the final 21 seconds.
The largest lead of the contest occurred early in the fourth quarter, when sophomore guard Julia Champagne (Brunswick, Maine) hit a layup, after pulling down an offensive board, to lift her team to a 60-55 advantage with 7:14 left in regulation. Johnson & Wales roared back with seven-consecutive points – including five from senior forward Kimberly Viafara (Woodside, N.Y.) – to claim a 62-60 edge with 4:32 on the clock.
The conference counterparts essentially traded buckets over the following four minutes before junior guard Kristen Habbel (Phoenixville, Pa.) and Viafara combined to go 4-4 from the FT line to provide the visitors with a 69-66 cushion and 26 seconds to play.
Down by three and the season on the line, sophomore guard Kelsi McNamara (West Newbury, Mass.) connected on perhaps the biggest shot of her career thus far, as the second-year standout took a pass from Champagne on the baseline and hit a game-tying three-pointer, while falling to her right, with 22 seconds to go.
The back and forth play continued in the first overtime frame and the Wildcats appeared to be headed to the GNAC final after Habbel nailed a three-pointer to put the visitors ahead, 81-78, with 12 seconds on the game clock. But once again, the Monks came up with a huge play as Champagne launched a deep trifecta, right in front of the SJC bench, to knot the game and force a second extra frame.
Viafara kicked off the second OT by netting all six of the Wildcats’ points, as JWU led by an 87-84 margin before junior forward Brianne Maloney (South Portland, Maine) and McNamara hit four straight freebies to lift the Royal Blue to an 88-87 lead with 27 seconds left.
After committing a turnover on their next possession down the floor, the Wildcats were forced to foul and sought out Benway – who entered the game shooting around 40% from the stripe – to tag and send to the line. The strategy failed however, as the second-year starter calmly sank both free throws, extending the SJC lead to 90-87 with 21 seconds on the clock.
With four seconds to play, Johnson & Wales fouled Champagne, who strode to the line and made one of two attempts to make it a four-point (91-87) game. The late freebie proved to be pivotal, as Wildcats junior guard Raquel Pederzani (Coventry, R.I.) drained a buzzer-beater from near midcourt to account for the 91-90 final.
With the win, Saint Joseph’s advances to the GNAC Championship for the fourth time in the last six seasons and look to defend the 2016 crown Saturday at 1:00 PM when the Monks host Emmanuel College in a rematch of last season’s title bout.
Emmanuel defeated Norwich University in other GNAC semifinal action tonight in Boston.
With the loss, the Wildcats’ 2016-17 season comes to a close.
LEADERS – SAINT JOSEPH’S:
· McNamara led all players with 31 points and was 5-13 from downtown with four rebounds and seven assists
· Benway tallied 16 points and 11 boards with three blocks, two assists, and a pair of steals
· Champagne contributed 14 points, nine caroms, and four assists
· Maloney came off the bench to provide nine points and five boards and was 5-6 from the FT line
· Junior forward Regan McFerran (Albany, N.Y.) chipped in with seven points and four rebounds and netted a pair of three-pointers in the first half
LEADERS – JOHNSON & WALES:
· Viafara capped her collegiate career with an impressive performance, as the senior netted 26 points with 12 rebounds and was 9-14 from the field
· Junior forward Ashley Thompson (Bellingham, Mass.) poured in 22 points and pulled down seven boards
· Pederzani notched a double-double with 18 points and 12 assists and hauled in seven rebounds
· Sophomore forward Ally Mishol (Longmeadow, Mass.) came off the bench to score 10 points in 11 minutes of play