Carson-Newman Survives Stunning Lenoir-Rhyne Rally, 79-72
GREENWOOD, S.C. - Fifth-seeded Carson-Newman stormed out to a 37-7 lead and survived a remarkable rally from Lenoir-Rhyne, outlasting the fourth-seeded Bears 79-72 Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Region Tournament, avenging two earlier defeats to their South Atlantic Conference rivals.
The Lady Eagles improved to 24-6 on the season and will face top seed Lander in a Southeast Regional semifinal Saturday night at 7:30 at Horne Arena. Francis Marion and Tusculum will meet in the other semifinal at 5:00 p.m.
Lenoir-Rhyne had beaten Carson-Newman 78-67 and 85-76 during the South Atlantic Conference regular season. But despite a valiant rally cutting a 30-point deficit to four, the Bears couldn't complete the season sweep and finished 21-8.
Senior guard Ashley Kyle (Jefferson City, Tenn.) and junior guard Mandy Mendenhall (Kingston Springs, Tenn.) led the Lady Eagles with 16 points apiece, senior forward Shari Buford (Hampton, Ga.) had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and sophomore forward Zoriah Williams (Calera, Ala.) added 14 points. Kyle had six assists and Mendenhall four steals. Junior guard Katlin Moore (Fort Mill, S.C.) added nine rebounds while Williams had eight boards.
Senior guard Brittany Mitch (McLean, Va.) scored a game-high 20 points in her college finale for Lenoir-Rhyne, freshman forward Precious Elkins (Conyers, Ga.) scored 14 points, senior guard Amber Holt (Charlotte, N.C.) 13 points, and sophomore guard Cameron Sealey (Gastonia, N.C.) 12 points. Mitch added nine rebounds and five steals, and senior guard Jami Safrit (Hickory, N.C.) led the Bears with five assists.
Buford got Carson-Newman off to a fast start with a three-point play to open the scoring. After Lenoir-Rhyne pulled within 5-4, the Eagles exploded on a 32-3 run including 21 unanswered points to take command of the game.
Mendenhall scored twice in the paint and Buford added two more baskets for an 11-4 lead. Williams scored inside, freshman forward Courdne Miles (Burlington, N.C.) hit two free throws, and Candis Clear made a lay-up to increase the lead to 17-4 with 13:25 left.
Carson-Newman continued to pour it on with Mendenhall making a 3-pointer and adding two free throws to make it 22-4 at the 12:19 mark. Williams made a tough shot inside and Mendenhall hit a jumper to complete the 21-point run, increasing the lead to 26-4 with 10:34 to go.
Senior center Jacquelyn Kremer (Sevierville, Tenn.) ended Lenoir-Rhyne's seven-plus minute scoring drought with a free throw. But things didn't get any better for the Bears. Kyle scored a basket and hit two free throws on consecutive possessions for a 30-5 lead, and after Lenoir-Rhyne's Holt hit two free throws, the Lady Eagles scored seven more unanswered points on inside baskets by Buford and Miles, and Moore's 3-pointer to make it 37-7 with 7:50 to go.
Mitch's lay-up with 6:52 left was Lenoir-Rhyne first points from the field in almost 11 minutes, and Mitch's two free throws one minute later gave the Bears consecutive scores for the first time in the game, pulling them within 37-11 at the six-minute mark.
Freshman forward Tasha Phillips (Clarkrange, Tenn.) hit two free throws to put the Lady Eagles back up by 30, 41-11, with 5:40 remaining. But Lenoir-Rhyne was showing signs of life, scoring eight unanswered points including Holt's three-point play and Mitch's 3-pointer to close within 41-19 with 3:43 to go.
Carson-Newman answered with six straight points to lead by 28, 47-19, on a Williams basket at the two-minute mark. After the Bears countered with five unanswered points to narrow the gap again, Mendenhall swished a 3-pointer to make it 52-27 with 30 seconds left. The Eagles led 52-28 at the intermission behind Mendenhall's 16 points.
Lenoir-Rhyne established early in the second half that they were still in the game. Sealey and Holt hit 3-pointers to get the Bears off to a quick start and Sealey's basket in the paint cut their deficit to 19 points, 58-39, at the 16-minute mark.
Mitch's 3-pointer from the left corner pulled Lenoir-Rhyne within 58-42 with 14:28 remaining. After a series of turnovers and missed shots, Mitch hit another 3 and the Bears remarkably had cut their deficit to 13, 58-45, with 12:47 to go.
Kyle scored two much-needed baskets on consecutive possessions to give Carson-Newman a 62-45 lead at the 12-minute mark. But the Bears kept coming back as Elkins hit two free throws, Safrit converted a three-point play, and Sealey drove in for a lay-up to pull them within 62-52 at the 9:38 mark.
Lenoir-Rhyne pulled within single digits for the first time when Mitch hit a trey from the left corner to make it 62-55 with 8:40 to go, completing a 10-0 run. After Phillips hit a jumper for the Eagles, Sealey got a back-court steal, made a lay-up, was fouled, and converted the three-point play to cut it to six, 64-58, with 7:10 left.
Safrit's free throw closed the gap to five and Mitch's blocked shot gave the Bears a chance to make it a one-possession game. But Lenoir-Rhyne turned the ball over and Moore hit an open 3-pointer to push the lead back to 67-59.
The Bears had another chance to rally, getting back within six, 67-61, when Elkins scored on a put-back. But a missed free throw, an errant 3-point attempt, and a missed shot inside on consecutive possessions slowed the comeback. Buford grabbed the defensive rebound on the last miss, was fouled, and hit both free throws to give Carson-Newman a 70-61 lead at the three-minute mark.
Mitch's two free throws pulled Lenoir-Rhyne within 70-63 with 2:55 left. After Williams made two free throws for the Eagles, Elkins scored in the paint to pull Lenoir-Rhyne within 72-65 at the 2:25 mark.
Carson-Newman hit one free throw, but Holt's steal and layup pulled the Bears back within six and teammate Elkins hit one of two free throws to make it 73-68 with 1:23 to go.
The Eagles' Moore hit one of two free throws, but Safrit's put-back pulled L-R within four, 74-70, with one minute to go. Safrit stole the in-bounds pass, but the Bears couldn't convert a shot, Moore grabbed the defensive rebound, and Mendenhall passed to Williams for a basket to make it 76-70 with 43 seconds left.
The Bears again cut it to four, 76-72, when Elkins scored inside and was fouled with 35 seconds left. But she missed the free throw, failing to convert the three-point play.
Phillips hit one free throw for a 77-72 lead, and L-R missed a 3-pointer on the other end. Kyle got the rebound, was fouled and hit one free throw for a six-point lead. She missed the second, but teammate Phillips grabbed the rebound. Kyle hit one of two free throws, making it 79-72 with 10 seconds left for the game's final point.
Lenoir-Rhyne almost completed the comeback by out-scoring the Eagles 44-27 in the second half. Down 41-11, the Bears used a 53-18 run to get the game down to two possessions with still over six minutes left.
For the game, Carson-Newman made 25 of 56 shots from the floor (45 percent), 25 of 33 free throws (76 percent), and four of 13 from behind the 3-point line (31 percent).
Lenoir-Rhyne made 22 of 58 shots (38 percent), 21 of 29 free throws (72 percent), and seven of 28 from behind the arc (25 percent).
The Eagles had a 46-31 edge on the boards.