SAN ANTONIO – A historic Ashland University women's basketball season came to a close with an 88-82 overtime loss to Shaw (N.C.) University in the NCAA Division II National Championship Game at Bill Greehey Arena on Friday (March 23) night.
The loss snaps Ashland's 33-game winning streak and ends its season just one win shy of its ultimate goal.
Senior Jena Stutzman (Berlin, Ohio/Hiland/Kent State) scored a heroic career high of 32 points, the final three of them coming on a 30-foot shot with under five seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime. It was the final game of her stellar collegiate career.
The Lady Bears (29-6) scored the first five points in the overtime period, but the Eagles never got closer than three points as Shaw shot 8-for-9 from the free throw line in the period to close the game.
After trailing, 8-2, in the opening minutes, the Eagles (33-2) rallied to take a 43-32 halftime lead, led by 20 first-half points for Stutzman. She shot 6-for-10 from the field, hit two 3-pointers and was perfect on six free throw attempts in the first half.
After the intermission, Shaw picked away at the AU lead, finally tying the game at 50-50 with 11:06 to play in regulation. The Eagles turned the ball over 11 times in the second half and they allowed eight offensive boards.
"Their defense really fired up in the second half, they caused some turnovers and also got second chance looks," said AU head coach Sue Ramsey.
The second half was played at a frenetic pace with both teams trading blows and neither able to get a significant grasp on the game. The lead changed hands six times in the second half, which also featured 10 tie scores.
"They came at us with everything they had," said junior forward Kari Daugherty (Fresno, Ohio/River View/Dayton) about Shaw's ability to climb back into the game. "They were flying in there for every rebound. They gave us everything they had in the second half."
The Eagles led, 67-62, with 3:57 to play in regulation after junior guard Lindsay Tenyak (Wadsworth, Ohio) buried a 3-pointer in front of the AU bench.
Shaw countered with a 6-0 run capped by a jumper by Crystal Harris with 2:24 to play in regulation. Daugherty's free throws gave AU the lead on its next possession, but Aslea Williams hit a jumper in the paint to give the Bears the lead.
"We weren't worried that we were down, we just wanted to make sure that we could still see them," said Shaw head coach Jacques Curtis.
Williams' put-back off a miss by Kyria Buford gave the Bears a 72-69 lead with 25 seconds left.
After a timeout, the Eagles moved the ball around the perimeter, but could not get the look they wanted and they called a timeout with 9.6 seconds remaining.
Off the inbounds, Stutzman grabbed a handoff, dribbled at the top of the key and buried a 30-foot 3-pointer to send the Ashland crowd into a frenzy with four seconds left. Sequoyah Griffin raced to the other end after the made basket, but her 3-pointer fell short to send the game to overtime.
Stutzman's 3-pointer was much like the one she hit in the closing seconds of the first half in Wednesday's (March 21) win over Bentley. This shot was from much farther out, however.
"I knew that if I could get a good look, I was going to take the shot," said Stutzman. "I used to shoot threes like that in high school."
The spark of Stutzman's 3-pointer did not rattle the Bears as they were able to take command of the overtime period early on.
"We tried not to get too excited (at the end of regulation)," said Stutzman. "We stressed that it was still going to come down to defense and rebounding. Our defense wasn't great in overtime, we gave them some open looks."
Daugherty finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds for her 17th straight double-double. She set the NCAA Division II Tournament records for rebounds (95) and field goals made (56). Daugherty scored 148 points in AU's six tournament games, just one point shy of the all-time NCAA Tournament mark.
Stutzman knocked down four 3-pointers in the game to give her 98 for the season. She is now the all-time AU single-season record holder for 3-pointers made in a season, passing Karen Bley, who had 96 in 1997-98.
The Eagles committed 21 turnovers in the game which Shaw turned into 23 points. The Eagles had just four points off turnovers. AU won the overall rebounding battle, 46-41, but allowed 15 offensive boards to the Lady Bears, who had 28 in their previous game against Rollins.
Sophomore guard Alyssa Miller (Zanesville, Ohio/Tri-Valley) scored 12 points and handed out three assists. She shot 3-for-5 from the field and was 6-for-6 from the line. As a team, the Eagles, who lead the nation in free throw shooting, were 24-for-26 at the line.
"People play me more as a passer, so sometimes I have to step and score to help my team," Miller said.
Griffin led five double-digit scorers for Shaw with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting. Brittney Spencer added 16 points and Williams had 14 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive).
Stutzman and Daugherty were each named to the All-NCAA Tournament team.
The loss puts an end to an incredible run for the Eagles, who hold the school record for most consecutive wins (33). No AU team sport had ever advanced this far in the NCAA Tournament.
"They played with all their heart, and as a coach, that's all I can ask for," Ramsey said. "There's nothing better than to coach these young ladies with the character and faith they've shown all season."
It was the second consecutive National Championship Game in which a GLIAC team came out as the runner-up. Michigan Tech lost to Clayton State in the final of last season's tournament.
It was just the third National Championship Game to go to overtime, the last coming in 2001 when Cal Poly Pomona topped North Dakota, 87-80.