MEC Women’s Basketball Semifinal Recap

The Free Press WV

Glenville State 98, West Liberty 85

Top-seeded and 18th-ranked Glenville State built a big second-half lead and then held off a furious fourth-quarter rally by fourth-seeded West Liberty to record a 98-85 victory in the semifinals of the Mountain East Basketball Tournament Saturday afternoon here at WesBanco Arena.

The win was the 19th in a row for the Pioneers, who are ranked second in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Rankings. It also improved Glenville to 28-2 and put them in Sunday’s MEC Tournament championship game at 1 p.m. against second-seeded University of Charleston. The Golden Eagles eliminated third-seeded Concord Saturday in the semifinals, 68-59.

Glenville defeated Charleston twice during the regular season by double figures.

West Liberty, which is currently eighth in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Rankings, fell to 21-9. The Hilltoppers, who hope to have done enough to earn a national tournament berth, will learn their fate Sunday evening when the regional selections are announced.

Glenville and West Liberty are two of the top teams in the country in 3-point shooting. The Pioneers average 12.1 made 3-pointers per game, while the Hilltoppers average 10.3. Saturday, however, both teams struggled early to find their range and that proved to be a bit more costly for West Liberty which fell behind the Pioneers 44-33 at the half. West Liberty was just 1-of-13 (7.7 percent) behind the arc in the first half, while Glenville went 1-of-9 (11.1 percent).

In the third quarter Glenville turned up its intensity even more and used a 23-8 run to extend its lead to 26 at 67-41 with four minutes left in the quarter. At that point West Liberty regrouped and finally started to get some perimeter shots to fall.

The Hilltoppers trimmed GSC’s lead to 16 at the end of the third and then fell behind by 18 early in the fourth before exploding on a 22-8 surge of its own buoyed by four 3-point field goals to cut the Pioneers advantage to four at 85-81 with 1:54 left in the contest.

“The first half we were both a little cold,” Glenville coach Kim Stephens said. “I would have never guessed that they would have only hit one three and we hit one three. I never felt like they were out of it though. We’ve been in the same exact situation with that team before. They’re a phenomenal team with the way they shoot the ball. They don’t get enough credit for that. All of their guards can shoot.

“So it was only a matter of time until they got hot and they did for the third straight time that we’ve played them. Thankfully the game was not 45 minutes. I knew that run was coming. I would’ve been shocked if it didn’t.”

West Liberty junior guard Morgan Brunner, who set a new record for made 3-pointers in the MEC Tournament with 13, hit three of her five treys Saturday during the Hilltoppers’ fourth-quarter rally which got them within four of the Pioneers.

“Coming out of halftime we slipped a little bit and lost our heads, but we got it together, held hands, Kumbaya’d a little bit, got our heads out of our butts and started playing really hard,” Brunner, who finished with 21 points, said. “We weren’t playing for ourselves. We were playing for each other. We stuck together, let them fly, hit some and got ourselves back in it.”

However, in this game just like it did in the two teams’ previous meetings Glenville State had an answer. The Pioneers’ Ty Armstrong ended West Liberty’s rally with a long 3-pointer to make it 88-81 with 1:28 to play. That shot sparked a 13-4 GSC run to end the contest. The Pioneers ended up going 10-of-12 at the foul line in the final 1:06 to seal the win.

“I saw we were up only by four,” Armstrong said of her big 3-pointer. “Re’Shawna (Stone) saw me so I had to nail the shot to put us up by some more points. That was a big shot for me and my team.”

Glenville State freshman guard Re’Shawna Stone, the MEC Freshman of the Year, led the Pioneers with 30 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. She had a lot of success all afternoon attacking West Liberty’s defense off the dribble.

“Me and my coach noticed they were switching every time on screens so we just set a ball screen and I went to the basket every time,” Stone said. “Marissa Brown, I noticed, usually sags off so I’d either pull up and shoot or try to go right past her inside to the basket.”

The Pioneers also got 14 points from Armstrong, 13 from Blaize Burgess and 10 from Zakiyah Winfield.

Senior center Marissa Brown led West Liberty with her league-leading 21st double-double performance of the season. She finished with 32 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. West Liberty also got 18 points, six assists and five rebounds from Taylor Johnson.

“It was a great game for women’s basketball,” West Liberty coach Kyle Cooper said. “You got to see high octane offenses and players making big-time plays. There were plenty of those to be had by both teams. People hit big-time shot after big-time shot today.

“I’ve said this before. I think Kim Stephens does a phenomenal job. The reason this team for Glenville impresses me so much is they lost so many key players from last year and have had kids come in and immediately buy into what they do. That team has great players, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t necessarily have that (Paris) McLeod who dominated the shots. They just play so hard and come at you in waves.

“To a testament to our players we played incredibly hard the whole game. The problem for us was that gap from seven to 11 points the whole first half was dictated on the little things that their system does to you. They sped us up, got second-chance points and points off turnovers while we weren’t shooting great there in the first half. That was the difference in the game.”

Glenville State, which won the MEC Tournament title last season, will play for its third conference tournament championship Sunday since the league formed in 2013-14. The Pioneers also won the 2014 MEC Tournament title.

Charleston 98, Concord 85

Second-seeded University of Charleston wiped out an early 9-0 deficit with 25 unanswered points to take control of its game with third-seeded Concord University en route to a 68-59 victory in the semifinals of the Mountain East Conference Basketball Tournament here Saturday afternoon at WesBanco Arena.

The win improved the Golden Eagles to 25-5 and earned them a spot in Sunday’s 1 p.m. tournament championship game with top-seeded Glenville State (28-2). The Pioneers eliminated fourth-seeded West Liberty Saturday, 98-85.

Glenville won both of its regular-season meetings with UC.

Saturday’s victory also helped Charleston, which came into the tournament ranked seventh in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Rankings, take another step toward securing a berth in the national tournament. The regional selections for that tournament will be announced Sunday evening.

Concord, which was ninth in the regional rankings, fell to 23-7 with Saturday’s loss. The Mountain Lions will await to hear their fate Sunday evening as well.

“I’m so proud of this team and how far we’ve come this season and for the way we battled today,” first-year Charleston coach Becky Burke said. “I have to give Concord a lot of credit for coming out today and starting the game 9-0. I really thought we were ready to play from the gate, but apparently we were not. They go up 9-0 and we followed it with a 25-0 run. That just shows extreme toughness, resilience and focus to be able to go do that after you get punched in the face early.

“Concord battled. They made a run in the fourth quarter as well, but I saw something in our team yesterday at practice and today at shoot around. There was something in their eyes and faces. I just knew today was going to go well for us.”

Trailing 9-0 Charleston regrouped and led by senior guard Raziyah Farrington exploded on its impressive 25-0 spurt. Farrington, who led all scorers in the game with 33 points and eight rebounds, scored 12 of the Golden Eagles’ 25 points on the game-changing 25-0 run.

“We knew we had to keep our heads up when we got hit with the 9-0 run,” Farrington said. “She (Burke) talks to us about toughness and possessions all of the time. We knew we still had the whole game to go and we couldn’t get down on ourselves. We knew we could come back.

“I had to find my game I guess. I just had to try to get to the hole and get us some buckets and my teammates put me in the position to do that.”

Veteran Concord coach Kenny Osborne says the 25 unanswered points by the Golden Eagles made the difference in the contest.

“We got off to a good start,” Osborne said. “You know our season this year has been a game of runs whether it’s been positive or negative. They went on a 25-0 run I believe. I looked up at the clock once and it was 9-0 and the next time I looked it was 25-9. That right there was the difference in the game.

“We turned it over against their press. We knew it was coming, but panicked a little bit and turned it over. The next thing you know we were buried in a hole.

“I told them after the game this time a year ago our team would’ve quit and we would’ve gotten beat by 40. Back in November we would’ve quit and got beat by 30. I think today we cut it to seven with about a minute to go and I applaud our team for that. I just thought that 25-0 run at the beginning of the game is what got us today.”

Concord rallied and trimmed UC’s lead to seven at the half at 33-26. However, the Golden Eagles came out in the third quarter and caught fire again. Charleston outscored the Mountain Lions 21-9 in the third quarter to open a 54-35 advantage.

Concord used five 3-point field goals in the fourth and final quarter to again cut UC’s lead to seven at 64-57 with 52 seconds left to play. Charleston, though, went 4-of-6 at the foul line in the final 37 seconds to secure the win.

Charleston held Concord 20 points below its season average Saturday. The Mountain Lions shot just 37.7 percent from the field (20-of-53) and turned the ball over 19 times.

“The turnovers and their press hurt us,” Concord senior guard Andreanna Pool, who led her team with 19 points and four assists, said. “We didn’t know how to handle it when we know how to handle it. I guess we just panicked a little bit. Turnovers do cost. They do, do cost.”

Sophomore center Riley Fitzwater recorded her team-leading 12th double-double performance for Concord Saturday finishing with 12 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. She also tied West Liberty’s Marissa Brown’s record for blocked shots in a tournament game with eight. The Mountain Lions also got 12 points from junior forward Madison May.

Sophomore guard Brooklyn Pannell joined Farrington in double figure for Charleston with 16 points. UC junior center Anna Hayton was limited to just three points, but pulled down a team-high 11 rebounds.

The Golden Eagles will play for their second MEC Tournament title Sunday. UC lost to Glenville in the first Mountain East Conference Tournament in 2014.

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