GETTYSBURG, Pa. – Mount Saint Mary (NY) College rallied from a 12-point first half deficit to get past Westfield State, 85-80 in the opening round of the NCAA Division III national championship tournament at the Bream Gymnasium at Gettysburg College on Friday evening.
The Owls grabbed a 12-point lead, 46-34 late in the second quarter with back to back triples from Lucy Barrett and Chelsea Moussette, and Barrett added an off-balance three-pointer at the first half buzzer to take a 49-41 lead into the intermission.
The Knights slowly climbed back into the game in the third quarter, as their shooting from the floor heated up just as the Owls started to cool down.
Westfield finished with an NCAA record 18 made three pointers (on 61 attempts), but Mount Saint Mary took the Owls best shot.
"Down 10 or 12 in the first half, we needed to keep the lead around that 10 range. If we got down 15 or 18 would be really touch. We did a good job holding our own and keeping it within striking distance," said MSMC head coach Mike Coppolino.
"They were shooting the ball tremendously well, added Coppolino. "They hit six threes in the first quarter, and I hoped the law of averages would catch up. Six times four is 24 threes and that would have been a major issue. They still had 18 but they did cool off a little bit."
"I didn't feel like we ever had a big lead," said Westfield State head coach Andrea Bertini. "Our leads are deceptive because we shoot so quick, and give up looks when we don't steal the ball. But I never felt like we were going to blow them out."
Westfield led 67-64 going to the fourth quarter after Kierra McCarthy knocked down a corner three with 10 seconds left in the third.
Mount Saint Mary took their first lead of the second half at 69-67, on a three pointer by Lauren Desrats with 7:45 left in the game.
The Knights went up five on a baseline jumper from Toriana Tabasco with 3:05 left in the game to lead 77-72, but a McCarthy 3 pointer tied the game at 78-all with 2:00 left.
After a Tabasco baseline drive gave the Knights an 80-78 lead, Barrett drove the lane and was fouled, hitting both shots to tie the game at 80-all with 1:28 to play.
On the decisive possession, Desrats hit a left corner three off an inbounds play with 16 seconds left to give the Knights an 83-80 lead.
Westfield saw McCarthy get off a contested, step-back three with Cleare guarding, but the Knights' Annie Keenan grabbed the rebound and fouled with 9.3 seconds left to all but seal the Owls' fate.
"Last couple of possessions we went with what we thought was our best defensive lineup," said Bertini. "Because you're worried about giving up a three, but more concerned about the big kids inside, because we had to stick in a little bit and try and get a rebound. There are a couple of possessions you'd like to get back from a defensive perspective, but I didn't feel good about going man and letting them get that good look in the paint or a chance for an and-one."
"They extended a lot more on the wings on the second half," said Barrett "I was surprised in the first half that we kept getting open looks on the three point line, but they addressed it. We were taking what they were giving us in the first half, and that why we were getting threes. But then they took it away a little because they had that presence inside, when they extend, once you get by you still had the big posts. They made good adjustments and we didn't capitalize or move the ball as much as we could have."
Barrett led Westfield with 21 points on 6-15 shooting from three point range. Gray added 17 points on 5-12 from down town, and McCarthy finished with 12 points and a team high seven rebounds. Junior point guard Chelsea Moussette handed out nine assists without a turnover in the game.
"We tried to key on Lucy and Melissa , they still had 21 and 17 and are both tremendous players , but we focused on limiting them as much as possible," said Coppolino
For the Knights, Lauren Desrats led with 19 points while shooting 5-8 from three point range. Annie Keenan added 14 and 11 rebounds, and Kayla Cleare finished with 13 points and 13 boards.
Westfield led 28-25 at the end of the first half. The Owls set the tone early and got the pace to their liking as they traded a layup for a Melissa Gray 3 pointer on the first possession. Gray hit back to back trifectas to open game and stake the Owls to a 6-2 lead. Westfield was 6-14 behind the arc in the opening frame, including a pair from Cayla Durkee.
"Our goal was to slow the game down as much as possible," said Coppolino. "Westfield plays with tremendous pace and our goal not play at that pace for the entire 40 minutes. I thought they controlled the pace in the first half, and in the second half we changed up some things and tried to slow it down."
Westfield extended its lead to a as many as 12, 46-34, after back to back three pointers by Moussette and Barrett with 2:46 left in the second quarter. With the Owls threatening to get away from them, Mount St. Mary put together a 7-0 run with points from four different players that pulled them back to 46-41, before Barrett launched the buzzer beater at the half.
Barrett led the Owls with 12 points in the half, all on three-point tries. The Owls forced 12 turnovers, getting 11 steals. Moussette dished out six assists in the half. Westfield connected on 11 of 31 three pointers in the opening half.
Lauren Desrats led the Saints with 8 in the first half, as Kayla Cleare added seven points and six rebounds.
"There are going to be a lot of highs and lows the way Westfield state plays … they have highs and lows and we tried to focus on one possession at a time and we obviously did a good job of that in the second half," said Coppolino.
In the third quarter, Mount Saint Mary made multiple runs at the Owls, trimming the lead to 55-51 before Gray drained a three pointer with 5:19 left in the quarter to push the lead back to seven.
Keenan trimmed Westfield's lead to one, 64-63 with 30 seconds left in the third before McCarthy's three gave the Owls a 67-64 lead entering the fourth.
Westfield shot just 10-43 (23%) from the floor in the second half, and 7-30 from three point range in the second half. The Knights countered with 17-32 (53 %) from the floor and a Owls-like five of six from three point range.
Westfield's (18-9) season comes to an end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight season.
Mount Saint Mary (23-5) plays Saturday at 6:00 p.m. in the regional final against Christopher Newport (Va.), which defeated host Gettysburg 82-78 in the other first round game here.
Postgame Press Conference