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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Ashland University

The Collegian

Eagles declaw Panthers in opening round of NCAA tournament, 102-65

The Eagles crossed the century mark for the sixth time in the 2023-24 season
Caleb Crowley
The Eagles’ Brockington, Smith, Howe and Dever high-five one another after a basket is made early in the contest against the Panthers.

On the road, or at home, it doesn’t seem to phase the Ashland University women’s basketball team.

The Eagles moved to an overall record of 31-1 on the 2023-24 campaign as they took down the Drury University Panthers, 102-65, in neutral site play. The win comes in the opening round of the NCAA Division II postseason tournament, at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Mich.

“I totally credit [the win to] our coaches and the preparation and also this team,” said Eagle guard Macy Spielman. “It is really hard to not have fun. It is a gift, every time we have a chance to step on this court.”

Friday’s meeting between the two sides is just the fifth all-time contest in the postseason tournament, with the record tied 2-2. However, the win for the Eagles moved that record to 3-2.

Coming into the contest, the Eagles were scorching hot after a dominating 99-58 win over the Trevecca Nazarene Trojans in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC) championship. As a team, they 58% from the field while posting a 49% line from three-point range.

“That is honestly what we wanted to do today; make a statement,” said Eagle Assistant Coach Jenna Kotas after the win against the Trojans. “We wanted people to know who the GMAC champions were. It is exciting to see people step up and fill big-time roles.”

Yet again, the team had individuals step up when under the bright lights of March.

To kickstart the first quarter, the Eagles were able to get on the board first as graduate forward Annie Roshak fed the ball to her counterpart Zoe Miller down low for a 2-0 lead.

After the early basket, the Eagles built fire underneath themselves and burst into the atmosphere scoring 12 straight points. The Panthers had no answer on the offensive end while struggling to stop the tempo established by the Eagles.

Zoe Miller drives to the hoop and draws contact as she drops in the ball for two points. (Caleb Crowley)

With 5:13 left in the opening stanza, the Panthers took a timeout trialing, 14-0.

The Panthers through the opening five minutes went 0-6 from the field and committed three turnovers.

“We have been able to play defense really well,” said Eagle Head Coach Kari Pickens. “I think that this team is on a mission and I think we have found a good rhythm.”

As the first quarter came to a close, the Panthers would finally find their opening basket with 3:38 on the clock. Their first basket would cut the lead down to 14 points, 16-2.

The remainder of the opening frame would see the Eagles score 10 more points while the Panthers found just six themselves.

In total, the Eagles shot 53% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc as they outrebounded the opposition, 10-6. Alongside the solid start offensively and in the rebounding category, they were able to force six turnovers against the Panther offense.

Heading into the second set of 10 minutes, the Eagles led, 26-8.

Early in the second frame, the Panthers began to find their rhythm offensively and turned their first-quarter struggles into learning moments.

They were able to play physically down low in the paint in an attempt to cut down the deficit and grab offensive rebounds.

Through the opening three minutes, the Panthers outscored the Eagles, 5-2.

However, as quickly as the struggles faded, they came soaring back.

The Eagles would go on to hang 18 points on the heads of the Panthers while allowing just 10, giving the team a staggering 24-point lead. As a team, they shot 48% from the field, found five shots to fall from the perimeter and went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe.

Macy Spielman hauls in a rebound and quickly dashes down the court with the ball. (Caleb Crowley)

In comparison, the Panthers found just eight total baskets in the opening 20 minutes of play for 32% from the field. They struggled to keep the ball in their hands as well, turning over the ball nine times.

“They are a very, very good offensive team,” said Kotas. “The fact we held them to one of their lowest-scoring halves of the year is huge for us. Our girls are doing a great job of knowing our defensive scheme.”

Throughout the 2023-24 campaign, the Eagles have not lost a game after leading at halftime.

To begin the second half, the Panthers started to answer the challenge at hand and outscored the Eagles, 14-10, in the opening five minutes.

Coming out of the media timeout, the Eagles needed to regain control of the Panther offense.

To make that happen, Pickens would throw forward Sarah McKee and guard Morgan Yoder into the contest. Both players have been strong defensively for the Eagles all season long.

They would propel the teams’ defense to allow eight points through the remainder of the frame while the offense found 15.

Down the stretch of the third quarter, guard Savaya Brockington started to pull the Eagles ahead with her high-intensity play style. She recorded two stops defensively in the final two minutes of play while dishing off one assist and finding the bottom netting once.

The Eagles waltzed into the fourth quarter with a comfortable 69-42 lead over the Panthers.

Just like the previous three quarters, the opposition was unable to bring the deficit down as the Eagles marched to a win.

In the fourth quarter, the team shot 67% from the field and 50% from three-point range.

With the team leading heavily, Coach Pickens dove into her bench. She gave late-game minutes to the underclassmen rotation of Sophia Niese, Gia Casalinova, Katleyn Harabedian, Kylie Leibacher and Carly Prows, who made the most of their limited time on the court.

Niese was able to find a three-ball herself alongside an assist, with Casalinova finding two points in 50 seconds of playing time.

The team was led by a strong 21-point outing from Miller who finished 9-of-12 from the field alongside seven rebounds.

“Zoe has been a beast for us since we got her last year,” said Kotas. “She is assigned with a tough task against tough post players. Offensively she is finishing through contact.”

Eagle guard Savaya Brockington dribbles the ball with her left hand towards the basket. She finished the game with 14 points. (Caleb Crowley)

Outside of Miller, the Eagles saw four other individuals with double digits points as Roshak finished with 16, Brockington with 14, Hayley Smith with 13 and Spielman with 11.

Quitely off the bench, McKee knocked down four shots for eight points and hauled in four rebounds.

“We talked about the fact that before the game – that we have such a unique strength,” said Pickens. “Most programs usually have one or two forwards, but we have four. They are able to rotate in if someone is having an off day.”

As a whole, the Eagles shot 55% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc.

“It is amazing that we have so many players scoring and contributing,” said Pickens. “It is one of the things that has made us really good – that we have such depth at the scoring position.”

The Eagles next will look to take on the Ferris State Bulldogs in the second round on Saturday, March 16. Tip-off between the two sides is set for 5:00 p.m. at GVSU Field House Arena.

The last time the Eagles played the Bulldogs, they fell, 66-62 at home.

“I think that the Ferris State game was a really great learning experience for us,” said Pickens. “It sucks that we lost to them but I am not disappointed that we lost. I think it gave us freedom and permission to make changes. We are excited for a round two against them.”

Eagle guard Lexi Howe rises up to play defense against Panther guard Anna Hitt. (Caleb Crowley)
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