March 5, 2010

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The lead changed hands five times in the final three minutes - with the final exchange finding the Utica College women's basketball team ahead - as the Pioneers defeated host and nationally-ranked No. 8 Moravian College 64-61 at Johnston Hall on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Pioneers (22-6) battled back from a 15 point second half deficit and outscored the Greyhounds 33-15 in the final 13:50 to advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1984.

Utica, which has now tied a school-record with 22 wins, snapped Moravian's 20 game-winning streak and advanced its own win streak to four. Utica will take on Gettysburg Saturday night at 7 p.m. in second round action at Johnston Hall. Gettysburg earned a right to play in the second round after a convincing 68-57 victory over Farmingdale State College in the early game.

"What a great win for our girls and our program," said Head Coach Michele Davis. "We are an emotional team and we turned it on at the right time tonight. Baskets began to fall for us in the second half and as always we pride ourselves on great defensive play. We are a very composed team - and these girls have been there before just two years ago, so battling back from 15 points really didn't surprise me too much."

Junior forward Jessica Berry (Rome, N.Y.), who was recently named the Empire 8 Conference Player of the Year, scored a game-high 22 points and snagged 13 rebounds, while classmate Devon Croll (Verona, N.Y.) added 11 points and seven rebounds.

After the first eight minutes of the contest the score was knotted at 8-8 before the Greyhounds went on a 7-2 run in a span of two minutes to take a 15-10 lead halfway through the first half of play. Moravian extended its lead to as many as eleven points, 25-14, with 6:30 to go in the first half but the Pioneers responded with a 7-2 run of its own to cut the lead back to six. The Pioneers run was sparked by four straight points from freshman forward Meghan Fiore (Epping, N.H.) and the visiting team trailed 27-21 with three minutes left in the first half.

That margin would hold for the final three minutes and the Greyhounds headed into the locker room with a 31-25 lead. Fiore, a three-time conference rookie of the week selection this season, led the way for Utica with 11 first half points and she also snagged five rebounds.

The Greyhounds, who entered the game as the sixth highest scoring offense in the nation (77.9 points per game) opened the second half on an 11-5 run and took an 11 point advantage, 42-31, with 15:03 to go in regulation. After falling behind by as many as 15 points with just under 14 minutes to go the Pioneers retaliated with an 11-3 run to cut the Greyhound lead to seven, 49-42, after freshman Danielle Busansky (Millersville, Pa.) drilled a 3-pointer at the 10:10 mark.

Croll converted on a lay-up at the 6:30 mark to cut the Moravian lead to just four points, 52-48. Croll responded again 1:15 later when she knocked down a key 3-point bucket to pull the Pioneers within two points, 55-53, with 5:14 to go in regulation.

Utica took its first lead of the entire contest, 58-57, after Busanky knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner at the 3:30 mark.

Five lead changes ensued with the Pioneers taking the lead for good after Berry knocked down a baseline jumper with 2:37 to go. Both teams were held scoreless for the next 2:27 until sophomore guard Katie McGee secured the victory with two free throws with ten seconds to go. Four players scored in double figures for Moravian including Kate Harrison (14), Kirsty Stearns (13), Jessica Foran (10) and Amanda Brown (10).

The Pioneers, making their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament in the last three seasons, earned a right to play in the post season after a dramatic 38-37 victory over top-seeded Ithaca College in the Empire 8 Conference Championships last weekend.

Moravian, riding the highs of a 20 game winning-streak, entered the contest by way of a 13 point victory over the University of Scranton in the Landmark Conference Championship. The Greyhounds season comes to a close with a 25-3 overall record.