Widener Shocks Messiah In Commonwealth Semifinals
By Bryn Swartz, GoMessiah.com reporter
Grantham, PA - In the semifinals of the Commonwealth Championships hosted at Messiah College, the Falcons suffered a heartbreaking 60-58 loss at the hands of the visiting Widener Pride.
Despite overcoming an eight-point deficit in the final minutes of the game, Messiah could regain the lead after tying the score at 58-58. The Pride were able to take the final shot of the game, a miss that was picked up by sophomore Jennifer Egee with what seemed to be no time left in the game. However, a literal last-second foul was called on the Falcons sending Egee to the free throw line for a 1-and-1. Egee would hit both attempts to give her team a 60-58 lead that would hold as the final score.
"It's hard to, most likely, end a season by doing more to beat ourselves than get beat," Messiah head coach Mike Miller said, reflecting on his team's loss to Widener. "We beat ourselves in the second half and it's really disappointing."
Miller's evaluation seemed accurate as the Falcons committed 23 turnovers on the evening, more than half of which came in the second half.
In the beginning of the game, things started off troubling for the #2-seeded Messiah. The Falcons missed all seven of their shots from the field, four of which were around the basket. Junior Dori Gyori also committed two fouls as the Falcons went down 5-0.
The Pride benefited early on from a full-court press, as the Falcons needed most of the first five minutes of the game to begin breaking the pressure.
The Falcons cut the deficit to 5-4, and a three from junior Nicky Hess tied the game at 11-11 midway through the first half. Hess added a layup a minute later and the Falcons had their first lead of the game. The next four minutes featured seven lead changes, as the teams kept exchanging baskets.
Junior Kira Maier hit a free throw and a layup to give the Falcons a 23-20 lead, and the Falcons ended up using eight foul shots in the final few minutes of the game to take a 36-32 lead at halftime. They did so despite Gyori spending a large portion of the first half on the bench with foul trouble.
"The thing that stands out is that we're up by four at halftime," Miller said, commenting on his team's ability to work through early adversity to take a halftime lead. "Foul trouble didn't matter too much."
In the second half the teams traded baskets, with Messiah taking a 43-39 lead, until Widener scored five in a row to earn a 44-43 advantage. The Pride scored 11 of the next 15 points, behind a pair of threes from Egee, to take a 55-47 lead with 6:24 remaining.
Then Messiah rallied, as Gyori hit a layup and sophomore Chelsea Danel hit a three and a layup. Widener added a free throw but the Falcons had cut the deficit to just 56-54 with 2:51 remaining.
Widener's Vanessa Hejnas added a layup with 2:07 remaining to give the Pride a 58-54 lead, but Messiah tied the game with 1:29 to go on a pair of foul shots and a layup from Gyori.
Each team missed a layup in the final minute and a half, setting up a final possession by Widener with the game knotted at 58-58.
The Pride's Lil Carney drove right off a high ballscreen and lofted up a short runner that bounced off the rim. A scramble for the ball followed, with the buzzer seeming to sound without either team gaining possession. But a foul was called on the baseline against the Falcons, with the official observing Egee being fouled while trying to grab the ball.
With the officials coming together to determine if the foul occurred before the buzzer sounded, it was decided that one full second would be added to the clock with Egee going to the line for a one-and-one opportunity.
Egee calmly sunk both shots, and a desperation inbounds pass by Messiah was intercepted at the buzzer. The 60-58 decision vaulted Widener into the Commonwealth Championship on Saturday, February 25, at #1-seeded Lebanon Valley College. c
"We had 15 turnovers in the second half," said Miller, suggesting that the final drama of the game could have been avoided by a better-played half. "There's the deal. In the second half, we didn't have foul trouble and we got outscored by five (points)."
For the Falcons, Gyori led the team with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Hess scored nine, dished out three assists, and collected four steals. Sophomore Taylor Miller also scored nine, while junior Jordan Seiz and Danel each scored seven. Maier scored six and freshman Hannah Nichols scored six off the bench.
On defense, the Falcons held the Pride to 23-59 from the field (39.0 percent), plus 9-16 (56.3%) from the foul line. But 23 turnovers proved too much for the Falcons to overcome.
Widener was led in scoring by Egee (15 points on 5-6 shooting, including 3-3 from three-point range). Lil Carney added 14 points for the Pride.
Widener will play Lebanon Valley for the Commonwealth Conference championship on Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. The Falcons may see their season end, as they hold out slim hope for an at-large bid into the NCAA Championships Tournament.