Defense lifts Gannon
Johnson C. Smith held to season low in 61-50 defeat
EDINBORO, Pa. – Only three current Lady Knights played on the 2009-10 Gannon women's basketball team that won the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional and advanced to the national semifinals. But the current edition of the Lady Knights played the type of defense needed to win postseason games Friday afternoon as if it had been to the Big Dance before.
Gannon limited third-seeded and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA) runner-up Johnson C. Smith to 31.7-percent shooting en route to a 61-50 victory during the opening round of the NCAA Division II Tournament at Edinboro University's McComb Fieldhouse.
The win is Gannon's fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional victory after the Lady Knights won the region during their last appearance in 2010. The program also continued its run of postseason success, improving to 7-2 during its last three NCAA tournament appearances. The Lady Knights went 2-1 during the 2009 tournament, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. They followed with a 4-1 record en route to the national semifinals in 2010.
Friday's outcome was also déjà vu for Gannon. In 2009, the Lady Knights suffered a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) quarterfinal loss to Indiana (Pa.) at the Hammermill Center before rebounding with a 68-53 victory against CIAA member Fayetteville State during the opening round of the national tournament. This year, Gannon also lost to IUP at home in the conference quarterfinals and rebounded again with another win against a CIAA program during the NCAA first round.
Gannon produced Friday's decisive run midway through the second half. Tied at 34, Caitlyn Lowe's three-pointer ignited a 12-2 run. After a Johnson C. Smith miss, Doriyon Glass was left open after a near-steal and drained another triple for a 40-34 Gannon lead.
JCS momentarily stopped the run with a Racquel Davis lay-up, before Gannon scored the next six points. Nettie Blake netted two points on a lay-up followed by consecutive scores from Jen Papich. Papich's lay-in pushed the Gannon lead to 46-36 with 7:32 remaining. The Lady Knights went 5-of-6 from the field during the run that lasted 2:45.
Gannon was able to bump its lead to 11 points on two different occasions, including a 53-42 edge after another Blake lay-up with 4:33 left to play. Johnson C. Smith was never able to get closer than seven points the rest of the way. Two Lowe free throws with 37 ticks left on the clock capped the scoring and gave the Lady Knights a 61-50 victory, representing the fourth time the squad equaled its largest lead of the afternoon.
Both teams started the tournament with defensive intensity as the two squads found themselves deadlocked with six points each 5:57 into the contest. Gannon started to heat up from the field at that point as Mollie Sebald and Caitlyn Lowe nailed back-to-back three-pointers.
Head coach Cleve Wright's club assumed a six-point lead twice in the opening 13 minutes. Johnson C. Smith was able to claw back within 20-19, but Gannon immediately responded with the final eight points of the half to take a 28-19 advantage into the break. Blake started the half-ending rally with a layup, before Glass and Brittany Batts converted back-to-back three-pointers. The Golden Bulls missed all five shots and turned the ball over four times during the final 3:33 of the first half.
After Gannon opened the second half with a basket, Johnson C. Smith went on a 15-4 run to tie the contest. The Golden Bulls finally pulled even on Kentucky transfer LaQwesha Gamble's layup at the 10:36 mark. JCS limited Gannon to 3-of-9 shooting with six turnovers during the first 9:24 of the final half.
Papich led all scorers with 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists during her first career NCAA tournament appearance. Blake was the only other Lady Knight in double digits with 10 points and eight rebounds. All nine Lady Knights who played scored and eight of the nine grabbed at least one rebound.
Gannon shot 44.2 percent (23-52) from the field, 38.1 percent (8-21) from three-point range and 77.8 percent (7-9) from the free throw line.
Gamble was the only Johnson C. Smith player in double digits with 11 points and seven rebounds. A CIAA first-team selection, Gamble entered the game ranked 11th nationally in double-doubles (15) and 13th in rebounds per game (11.4). The Golden Bulls' 50 points represented a season-low and were 18.8 points below their average.
Johnson C. Smith shot 31.7 percent (19-60) from the floor, 28.6 percent (6-21) from behind the arc and 85.7 percent (6-7) from the foul line.