Women's Basketball Falls at Bluffton, 71-61

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BLUFFTON, OHIO -- A first-half lead wouldn't hold as host Bluffton University came back to defeat the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology women's basketball team, 71-61, in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference action Saturday.  

Junior Sheree Williams (Bluffton, S.C./Bluffton) led Rose-Hulman with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including a 3-for-4 performance from the 3-point line. Freshman Josie Schmidt (Eighty Four, Pa./Eighty Four) added 11 points and seven rebounds and classmate Abbie Marshall (St. Louis, Mo./Nerinx Hall) chipped in her first double-double of her career with 10 points and a career-high 13 rebounds to go along with five assists.

The Fightin' Engineers (8-15, 6-10 HCAC) led by as many as 12 points (26-14) at the 8:38 mark in the first half, but the Beavers (13-10, 9-7 HCAC) stormed back to tie the game at the half, 31-31. 

Bluffton opened the second frame with two straight buckets but a Williams' triple cut the lead quickly back to two, 36-34. The two teams would trade baskets over the span of the next three minutes, before a Gracie Gibbs (Parker, Colo./Ponderosa) basket tied the game at 40-all and Williams followed with a layup to give the lead back to the Engineers, 42-40, with 14:24 on the clock.

The Beavers would then regain a slim lead over the course of the next seven minutes, as Bluffton led by just 2 (52-50) with 7:09 remaining. That's when the Beavers made their run, outscoring the Engineers 14-5 to take an 11-point lead (66-55) with 3:37 left in the game.

Rose-Hulman would get as close as seven twice – on a pair of free throws by Marshall and a Carrie Morris (Altadena, Calif./Mayfield) jumper – but Bluffton's Taylor Whitaker drained a dagger 3 with less than a minute to play to seal the victory.

Bluffton's Brooke Ruffer scored the game's first points with a layup, but the Engineers would take control for the next 12 minutes, as a Schmidt tip-in at the 8:38 mark of the first half gave RHIT its biggest lead of the game at 12 (26-14). Rose-Hulman scored 22 of its 31 first-half points in the paint, led by six from Schmidt and four apiece from Gibbs and Kelsey Ploof (Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville).

But the Beavers responded with a run of their own, as a Gwen Downing layup with 19 seconds to play tied the game at 31-all to erase the deficit.

Gibbs added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Engineers, marking the first time this season the Engineers have had two double-figure rebounders. Ploof finished with seven points, five boards, four steals and two assists, while Morris added three assists.

Rose-Hulman shot 46.2 percent (24-for-52) for the contest, compared to 38.2 percent (26-of-68) for Bluffton.  The Engineers also won the rebounding battle, 43-30.

Kaitlyn Pennekamp led the Beavers with 22 points and Whitaker and Ruffer added 12 points each.

Rose-Hulman returns to play Wednesday for its final home game of the season when the Engineers face Franklin College for a 7:30 p.m. matchup. The Engineers conclude the regular season with a road contest at Mount St. Joseph Feb. 22.