FRANKFORT, Ky. – It took a full team effort on Wednesday morning, but fifth-seeded women's basketball survived a frantic second half comeback by fourth-seeded Columbia College in the Opening Round of the NAIA Tournament. The Bears (24-9) held a 12-point lead during the second half but the Cougars (27-7) erased the deficit and held a lead with under four minutes to play. The two sides were also tied with just over two minutes to play. However, the Bears would hang on and prevail for the 62-56 victory.
SSU's next game will be this Friday at 10:45 a.m. against No. 1 Oklahoma City who was a 74-39 winner over No. 8 Central Methodist in the following game. The Bears are 1-0 all-time against Oklahoma City with a 54-47 win during the 2011 NAIA Tournament.
With the win, the Bears have now made it to the NAIA Second Round in each of the past five seasons, making this year's senior class a perfect 4-0 in NAIA Opening Round games. All-time, the Bears have advanced to the NAIA Second Round in 14 of their 18 tournament appearances, including a perfect 3-for-3 mark in NAIA Division I. They also improved to 5-4 all-time when they are the underdogs according to tournament seeds.
Coming into this tournament, women's basketball had only ever posted one double-double in the NAIA Division I Tournament. It now has three after Alex Pohl repeated her double-double feat of a year ago with 12 points and 16 rebounds today. Schera Sampson also added her first postseason double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. She also tied the school record for single-season rebounds. She now has 343 this season. Tying for the team lead in scoring was Allison Nagle. She shot 4-of-7 from three (5-of-9 overall) to finish with 14 points. Alannah Sheets finished with 10 points, giving the Bears four players in double figure scoring.
For Columbia, reigning American Midwest Conference Player of the Year Heather English finished with a game-high 20 points but no other Cougars player would tally more than 10. The Bears stifled the Columbia offense to just a 2-of-22 mark from behind the arc while the Bears went 6-of-18 from three. SSU also held a 47-36 edge in the rebounding department.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair for the 10 minutes as the score was tied at five different points early on. Tied at 11-all, the Cougars took their largest lead of the half with seven of the next nine points to lead 18-13 with 12:37 to play in the half.
The Cougars would briefly hold that advantage before Shawnee State answered with a 9-0 run that saw the Bears tie the game up at the 11:05 mark and hold a 22-18 edge with 9:19 left in the half. A Columbia basket stopped that scoreless stretch but a three by Sheets and two more behind the arc from Nagle gave the Bears a 30-20 lead with just under five minutes to go in the half.
A third Nagle three gave the Bears a half-high lead of 12, 36-24 with just 1:20 left in the opening half but Columbia would answer with a basket on its next possession and SSU took a 36-26 lead into the locker room.
The Cougars brought that halftime lead down to six, 40-34, just four minutes into the second half. However, Shawnee State would stop the brief spurt and answered with three straight baskets and held a 12 point lead, 46-34 with just over 14 minutes to play.
Columbia's rally would start shortly after that as the Cougars went on a 14-1 run and took its first lead since midway through the second half, 48-47, with just over eight minutes to play in the game. Another Nagle three put the Bears up by a basket, 50-48, and they would hold that narrow lead up until the Cougars went ahead with a pair of free throws, making the score 53-52 with 4:07.
However, on the next possession, the Bears retook the lead lead as Pohl gathered a rebound and put it back up for the basket, making the score 54-53. Pohl would add two more free throws on the next trip down but Columbia would not go away as it came back with a basket to make it 56-55 with 2:42 to play. The Cougars would tie the game by making 1-of-2 at the free throw line and the teams were even, 56-56, with 2:04 to play.
Over the final two minutes of play, the Bears would not concede another point. A free throw from Pohl put the Bears up by one to answer the tie score and after a defensive stop, Sampson stepped to the line and knocked down a pair of free throws. The Cougars would have one final chance at the free throw line down three but they missed both and Sampson added two more free throws before the final buzzer sounded in the 62-56 victory.