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Tom Reisenweber | | March 25, 2014

Reisenweber: Assists carry West Texas A&M into semis

ERIE, Pa. -- From the moment Mark Kellogg took over at West Texas A&M, he preached sharing the basketball.

Kellogg, a first-year coach, now has his team in the NCAA Division II national semifinals.

“Everywhere I've coached, we've talked about giving up good shots for great shots and making the extra pass,” Kellogg said. “We have a balanced team and they've really bought into it.”

West Texas A&M finished with 20 assists on 35 field goals Tuesday in a convincing 81-44 win against Limestone in the NCAA Elite Eight on Tuesday in front of 1,244 fans at Erie Insurance Arena. The Buffaloes will take on either Nova Southeastern or Concordia-St. Paul in the semifinals on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The Buffaloes (31-2) have developed into one of the top passing teams in the country this season and led Division II with 19.2 assists per game heading ito the Elite Eight.

“Sharing the ball is key for us because we work better when we assist each other and get everyone involved,” West Texas A&M senior Devin Griffin said. “It keeps our energy up when everyone is active.”

The Buffaloes were active from the start on Tuesday as they recorded an assist on seven of their first eight field goals to take a 22-11 lead midway through the first half.

“I thought we had some things for them but they made shots early and really moved the ball well,” said Limestone coach Corey Fox.

“We had some success going man-to-man, but they we were ready for our zone. They always had five players on the floor looking to pass and were very productive. They were able to spready us out and caused us problems.”

Among the 20 total assists, West Texas A&M had four players with at least three. Raven Gerald leads the Buffaloes with 3.7 assists per game and recorded four on Tuesday, while Griffin had 13 points, five rebounds and four assists. Casey Land and Taryn Borchardt also contributed with three assists each as West Teaxas A&M continued to find open players with quick ball movement. Land is averaging 2.8 assists per game this season, and Sally Higgins, who had two assists against Limestone, is averaging 2.0 assists per game.

The quick ball movement has also led to both the nation's leading field goal percentage (.478) and leading 3-point field goal percentage (.399). West Texas A&M was 30-61 (49.2 percent) from the field on Tuesday.

The Buffaloes led 39-22 at the half with 12 field goals on eight assists in the first 20 minutes. West Texas A&M then started the second half on a 19-0 run in the first seven minutes to pull away.

Chontiquah White had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Buffaloes, while Higgins had 11 points and Lacee Logan added 10.

Ayshia McNeil led Limestone (27-6) with 12 points and Alicia Brookins added 11.

“The team has done a great job in buying into the system of sharing the ball this season,” Kellogg said. “There's always a moment or possession or game here or there that can be a defining moment but they've been sharing the ball all year. We were humbled at Emporia State [a 78-64 loss] earlier this year. We thought we were really good and that was our challenge to come back and respond the rest of the season.”

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