ADA, Ohio -- For just the second time in the 45 years of Christopher Newport women's basketball, the Captains are headed to the Final Four! Seventh-ranked CNU punched their ticket to the National Semifinals after handing Ohio Northern University it's first loss of the season, 76-66, ending a 30-game winning streak.
The Captains won their ninth straight, improving to 29-2 and setting up a rematch of the 2011 NCAA Final Four, as CNU will face top-ranked Amherst College in the next round. The games will be hosted by Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. with start times set for 5:00 and 7:30 pm. St. Thomas (Minn.) and Tufts round out the Final Four.
"I just can't say enough about how proud I am of these young women," said head coach Bill Broderick after earning his first career trip to the finals site. "They've bought into this system and have worked so incredibly hard to get to this point. Our mantra has been "next woman up" all season long, and tonight was yet another testament to that."
That mantra rang true in the hostile environment on Saturday as the Captains scored 46 points off the bench in the Elite Eight matchup, including three double figure scoring performances.
For the second straight night, an explosive quarter set the tone for the Captains to take a big lead on their nationally-ranked opponent. Against the Polar Bears, it was a dominant second quarter that put the Captains in control, but the home team would not be denied a thrilling finish as Ohio Northern battled all the way back to within three before CNU held on for the win.
Behind a red-hot shooting performance from rookie Micah Maloney, the Captains turned a back-and-forth first quarter into a double-digit lead at halftime. Ohio Northern controlled the first several possessions, taking a 6-0 lead with buckets on each of their first three touches. Maloney checked in and got the call on her first possession, burying a three-pointer to cut the lead in half. After Makeda Wright tied it, the teams matched eachother through the remainder of the first quarter, but CNU never led. In the final minute of the first quarter, Maloney scored five points, including a momentum-shifting triple to tie the game at 18 with three seconds left in the stanza, firing up the CNU offense.
It also lit a fire into the CNU defense, who had just two steals in the first quarter. Within the first 1:11 of the second quarter, the Captains had already matched that total, while adding a blocked shot. On the other end, CNU scored 10 of the first 12 points, capping a 13-2 run to take an eight point lead, 28-20. A jumper by Ohio Northern's Jenna Dirksen looked to stymie the run, but after that bucket, with 7:17 remaining, the Captains defense held the Polar Bears without a made basket for nearly six full minutes. Meanwhile, the CNU shooters were torching the nets from long range. Jasmine Bonivel hit a pair of triples and added a long two, while Bailey Dufrene also connected on a shot from outside to give CNU another 11-0 spurt. In total, the 24-4 roll lasted over eight minutes of game action and gave the Captains the largest lead of the game at that point, a 17-point advantage, 39-22.
At halftime, CNU was up by 15 points, 41-26, holding an Ohio Northern offense that was averaging 73 points per game to just 26 first-half points. Maloney had 13 points to lead the way for CNU, while connecting on all three of her attempts from deep. Coming into Saturday's matchup, Maloney had knocked down just five three's all season.
Facing an undefeated team at home, the Captains knew the Polar Bears were not ready to see their season end, and would come roaring out of the locker room. CNU would score the first six points of the second half, though, and took a game-high 21-point lead, 47-26, as Sam Porter knocked down a pair of jumpers to lead the early roll. Ohio Northern responded in a big way, putting a 12-0 run on the board to cut the lead back down to single digits, 47-38, with 2:20 remaining. Another long-range shot from Makeda Wright extended the lead for a moment, but Amy Bullimore picked up a layup and Britt Lauck a pair of free-throws to make it 50-42 heading into the final ten minutes.
After seeing a large lead disappear in the Elite Eight matchup against Hope on Friday night, the Captains were prepared for another furious comeback on Saturday. While the Polar Bears found big shot after big shot to keep cutting into the CNU advantage, the fourth quarter was more about CNU answering each with a big shot of their own. After Dirksen hit a three-pointer with 6:05 remaining to cut the lead to three, 54-51, junior Makenzie Fancher wasted no time on the next possession, burying a three of her own to re-take a six point lead. Then, the defense took over, getting three straight steals and points off turnovers to extend the lead back to 12, 63-51.
The Polar Bears stayed red hot, cutting the lead back to four on a pair of shots with 3:19 remaining, but a free-throw by Devon Byrd and back-to-back clutch three-pointers from Anitra Thomas gave CNU a 70-61 edge with just over a minute left to play. Forced to foul, Ohio Northern put Fancher, Zhara Tannor, and Wright at the line, but the Captains converted on six straight free-throws to ice the win.
The Captains' defense grabbed 15 more steals while forcing 19 turnovers in the game. Sam Porter was one of four players to grab three steals in the game, and in doing so, the junior moved up to fifth on the single season steals chart in CNU history. The only player ahead of Porter is CNU legend Karen Barefoot, who registered the top four single season totals for steals in program history.
Offensively, the three-ball clearly led the way for CNU in a 13-for-28 effort (47.4%), with five different players connecting on multiple three-point attempts. Maloney and Thomas each had three, and led the Captains in scoring with 13 points apiece. Bonivel and Porter each added 10 points, while the quartet led a 49.1% shooting effort overall, going 28-of-57 in the game.
Four Ohio Northern players were also in double figures, led by Amy Bullimore's game-high 19 points. Lauck added 14, followed by 13 from Dirksen and 11 by Lindsey Black off the bench.
CNU will now travel to Michigan to face Amherst for just the second time in program history. Amherst cruised into the Final Four with a 40-point win in the Elite Eight over UMass Dartmouth, 73-33. They are ranked No. 1 in the nation and will be making the program's seventh appearance in the National Semifinals.
More information will be released about next weekend's action later -- stay tuned to CNUsports.com for updates.