THE TURNING POINT: Ashland led 83-80 with 1:42 to go, then Laina Snyder scored the team's final five points and kept Bellarmine at arm's length.
STAT OF THE GAME: The Eagles are 3-0 against nationally-ranked opponents in 2016-17.
The No. 1-ranked Ashland University women's basketball team survived a second-half comeback by No. 4 Bellarmine on Friday (Dec. 30) afternoon in Louisville, Ky., improving to 14-0 thanks to an 88-83 win over the Knights (10-1).
Ashland's star junior forwards, Daugherty and Snyder, were the key figures in Friday's victory. Daugherty scored a season-high 28 points and pulled down a season-high-tying nine rebounds, while going 12-of-17 from the field and adding two assists and two steals.
Friday's game was Daugherty's third 20-plus-point game of the season, and 17th of her Eagle career. She has 1,156 career points.
Snyder then finished off Bellarmine by scoring Ashland's last five points in the final 1:22 of the contest, and ended with 17 points, five boards, three assists and four steals. Snyder passed Jackie Mason for 11th place on Ashland's all-time scoring list, and now has 1,226 career points.
Ashland has won 20 consecutive regular-season games, and snapped Bellarmine's 15-game regular-season winning streak. The Eagles are off to their third-best start in program history (24-0 in 2012-13, 21-0 in 2015-16), and are 29-1 all-time when playing as the top-ranked team in the country.
Ashland wasted no time getting out in front, taking a 6-0 lead and forcing a Bellarmine timeout 1:22 into the game. The Eagles eventually scored the game's first 14 points, then led 17-2 in the first 3:49 of the game, as Daugherty quickly scored nine.
The Knights, however, came back with an 8-0 run of their own, stopped by a Johnson jumper, which ended an almost three-minute scoring drought. When the first-quarter clock hit 0:00, Ashland led 23-18, overcoming 10 turnovers by hitting 10-of-17 from the field and scoring nine points off eight Bellarmine giveaways.
Similar to the first quarter, Ashland began the second strong, outscoring the Knights 10-2 in the first 2:20. The Eagles led 47-37 with 3:14 left until halftime, but went into halftime up 56-39 thanks to an offense which hit at 61.1 percent from the field and made 4-of-6 from 3-point range and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line, and a defense which forced 15 turnovers.
There was no quick start for Ashland in the third quarter, but thanks to the halftime margin and good defense, the Eagles still led 64-49 inside of the five-minute mark courtesy of a 3-pointer by freshman forward Sara Loomis.
Bellarmine, however, kept coming, and got its deficit down to single digits at 64-55 with 3:12 to go in the third. That 6-0 spurt ended when Daugherty converted an old-fashioned 3-point play just 20 seconds later, helping AU to a 71-61 lead through three quarters.
The Knights kept chipping away at the Eagles' lead to start the fourth quarter, making it a 75-71 game with 6:47 left. Daugherty stopped Bellarmine's 10-4 run to start the period with a jumper at the 5:51 mark, giving Ashland a 77-71 advantage, then Daugherty's layup at the 4:42 mark re-gave the Eagles a six-point lead at 79-73.
The back-and-forth play continued, and Daugherty's layup with 2:03 to go put AU ahead 83-78. Snyder's jumper at 1:22 allowed the Eagles to lead by five again, 85-80, then Snyder's steal, rebound and three free throws in the final 15 seconds helped seal the Ashland victory.
Helping the Eagle cause, Bellarmine missed four of six free throws in the game's final four minutes.
Ashland has scored at least 75 points in all 14 games in 2016-17.
The Eagles have the most wins (158) and best winning percentage (.873) in NCAA Division II since the start of the 2011-12 season.
UP NEXT: The return to Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play on Thursday (Jan. 5) at 5:30 p.m. at home against North Division tri-leader Michigan Tech (8-2, 4-1). The game will be Church Night at Kates Gymnasium.