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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’ quest for back-to-back championships comes up short in loss to Ferris State

The Eagles’ streak of 44-straight road wins comes to a close in 64-59 loss to the Bulldogs
Caleb Crowley
Eagle guard Savaya Brockington dribbles the ball with her left hand towards the basket.

ALLENDALE, Mich. — Heartbreak away from home.

Back on Dec. 16, 2023, the Eagles and Bulldogs took on one another in non-conference regular season action. The Bulldogs would give them their first loss in 45 games. With a headful of steam on Saturday, the Eagles attempted to avenge their struggles from months ago. However, the team came up short in a 64-59 loss in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament at Allendale, Michigan.

“We’re excited for a round two with them. Are they a great team? Absolutely,” Pickens said ahead of Saturday’s contest with the Bulldogs after the team’s win against the Drury Panthers. “They’re a very, very good opponent going into the second round. We’re excited to see what we can do tomorrow.”

Picken’s statement about how good the Bulldogs are would echo in the GVSU Fieldhouse Arena at Saturday’s outing.

“They came out really tough, really hard,” Pickens said. “They had a great gameplan and they deserved to win today but I am really proud of my team’s fight until the very end.”

The No. 1 nationally ranked Eagles fell to 31-2 in the 2023-24 campaign and will cut their year short. Instead of them, the Bulldogs will move on and will take on a GLIAC rival in the Grand Valley State (GVSU) Lakers in the regional championship. That contest will come on Monday, March 18, with tip-off scheduled for 7:00 p.m.

“We played with toughness, got our hands on the basketball and playing with that huge lead was a key to most of this game,” said Bulldog Head Coach Kurt Westendorp. “They made some of their runs but we were able to keep making a big play every time they made a run.

“It got a little close for comfort at the end, but they were the defending national champions that’s gonna happen.”

The Bulldogs can shift their focus to the Lakers after showcasing poise in the Round of 32. The team finished the outing shooting 41% from the field (21-of-51).

“I thought defensively we did some good things, holding them below their averages from the field and from three,” Pickens said. “I thought defensively we were sharp.

“Offensively, we weren’t quite as sharp on the offensive end.”

The Bulldogs began dog-piling on the scoring early in the first quarter.

Out of the gates, the Bulldogs instantly pushed the pedal to the metal, taking a 22-10 lead over the Eagles at the end of the opening frame.

“They were doubling and fronting us,” said Eagle Assistant Coach Jenna Kotas. “Our flow on our offense just has to be so much better because they are taking away from us. They are a great defensive team.”

The Eagles attempted to get themselves within reach as the first half dwindled to a close, but the defensive shifts from Dec. 16 to now, were shown by the Bulldogs.

“I thought we played an excellent game,” Westendorp said. “We really keyed in defensively and that has been the key to our first two wins.

“Our defense was locked into our game plan and these kids have just played with so much toughness.”

At the halftime break, the Bulldogs possessed a comfortable nine-point lead through the opening 20 minutes, 35-26. The team was led by elite scoring from graduate forward Chloe Idoni with 17 points, while Mallory McCartney helped contribute to the team’s effort with six points. All of her points came from beyond the arc.

“We have got to be the tougher person on her [Idoni],” Kotas said. “She is getting whatever she wants and that’s the end of it right now. We knew the game plan was to be tough and physical with her but that only lasted a couple of possessions.

“We just have to be tougher with her.”

In the second half, the storyline would remain the same as the Eagles struggled to bring themselves back within the contest. They entered the fourth quarter trailing, 45-39, over the No. 3 seed.

The Bulldogs were able to staple home the win in the final frame as they shot 46% from the field and posted 19 points. While the Eagles found 20, they dug themselves into a hole too deep to claw out of.

“The game didn’t end the way we wanted it to end,” Pickens said. “But I thought that our team fought until the very end.

“We just dug too big of a hole in the first quarter of play.”

In the final minute of play, the team attempted to bring the contest back around as they trailed by seven points at one point. With sheer will, they closed the gap to just three points.

“They kept believing,” said Pickens. “Our mission statement is that we are on a relentless pursuit to do two different things. I think we did those things until the very end.”

As the contest came to a close, Bulldog guard Kaitlyn Blanchard stapled the contest shut with a three-pointer from the logo for 16 points.

Grad student Annie Roshak was one of the standouts in the loss for the Eagles as she knocked down four shots from the field for 11 points. Alongside her efforts, forward Hayley Smith finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds and graduate guard Macy Spielman contributed 10.

“We talked in the locker room about how this game… it hurts, to lose like this” Roshak said. “But at the end of the day, it doesn’t define our careers and that’s not what defines this team.”

Of the bench, guard Erin Daniels helped to keep the contest close with seven points, three of which came in the final minute of play.

“I am so lucky that I got the opportunity to come to Ashland six years ago,” Daniels said. “I have grown on and off the court and that’s to the team and Coach Pickens and the coaches that came before.

“It is not fun to lose but there is no other team I would want to finish out my career with.”

For the Bulldogs, prominent forward Chloe Idoni shined with 21 points for 7-of-13 from the field. She also hauled in five rebounds, dished off two assists and grabbed three steals in the win.

The quest for a second-consecutive national championship comes up just short, as the Bulldogs will take the Eagles spot dancing in March.

“As a coach, I look back on the course of this season and things that you maybe wish you would have done differently in preparation for a game like this,” Pickens said. “But I have no regrets about this year, for this team.

“I just wish I could have put our girls in a better position to attack that defensive scheme that Ferris did a good job with.”


Final Statistics can be found below:

Final Statistics of Ashland University vs. Ferris State on Saturday, March 16, 2024.
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