Wildcats edge Bison in closing minutes, 54-53

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DUDLEY, Mass. – Senior captain Amber Litwinko (Berlin, Conn.) scored a game-high 18 points in Nichols College's 54-53 loss to Johnson & Wales (RI) in non-conference women's basketball action Thursday night at the Nichols Athletic Center.

Litwinko also pulled down nine rebounds and dished out four assists as the Bison fell to 4-12. Classmate Alexis Wegrzynek (Wilbraham, Mass.) snared a team-high 10 boards to go along with eight points, four steals, and two dimes. Senior Sarah Whitestone (Dalton, Mass.) chipped in with seven points and a pair of steals.

JWU sophomore Bobbie Whitehead (Brooklyn, N.Y.) recorded a double-double with 15 points and a game-high 18 rebounds – 10 of which came in the second half – as the Wildcats improved to 10-6 on the season. Freshman Ashley Thompson (Bellingham, Mass.) dropped in 15 points while notching six rebounds, three steals, and two assists.

Nichols opened up a 13-8 lead eight minutes into the contest behind four points each from Litwinko and Wegrzynek. The lead grew to seven points (24-17) following a jumper from Litwinko with 4:40 to go before a 9-2 run by the Wildcats tied the game at 26. The tying bucket coming on a layup from Whitehead.

Back-to-back baskets from sophomore Julia Zawacki (Waterford, Conn.) and Whitestone gave the Bison a four-point edge, which turned into a two-point halftime margin (30-28) following another basket by Whitehead. The teams each shot well in the opening stanza (NC – 44 percent; JWU – 42 percent) despite committing a total of 23 turnovers (NC – 13, JWU – 10). Litwinko and freshman Brooke Packard (Dudley, Mass.) paced the Bison with six apiece while Whitehead led all scorers with 11.

The Bison grabbed a 40-36 lead six minutes into the second half, only to see the Wildcats rip off an 11-0 run to move in front by seven at 47-40. Nichols responded with a 12-3 run to grab a 52-50 behind six points from Litwinko – the final two coming from the charity stripe at 3:09.

Freshman Rachel Pederzani (Coventry, R.I.) drained a three-pointer at the other end to give the Wildcats a one-point lead (53-52) with 2:46 on the clock. Litwinko rattled home one of two from the line at the other end to tie the game at 53 with 2:13 to go. The decisive point came from Pederzani, who knocked down the first of two free throws at the 1:00 mark and finished with 11.

Nichols had three shots in the final 60 seconds to move in front – including two in the final four seconds – but Whitestone, Wegrzynek, and Litwinko couldn't convert.

The Bison shot 24 percent in the second half (7-of-29) and finished the contest at 34 percent (21-of-61). Each team committed 20 turnovers and turned them into 17 points apiece. Nichols held a 44-40 edge on the glass. JWU canned 39 percent of its field goal attempts (22-of-56).

The Bison hosts Gordon Saturday at noon while the Wildcats play at Norwich Saturday at 1 p.m.