Saint Augustine's University lost to Shaw University Wednesday (Feb. 29) for the third time this season, but this game was much different.
The Lady Falcons put a major scare in their crosstown rival during the CIAA Tournament women's basketball quarterfinals, but the Lady Bears closed out with an 80-73 victory at Time Warner Cable Arena. The loss ended the Lady Falcons season at 14-14, but Head Coach Rachel Bullard was proud of her women in defeat.
“Shaw is a good team, but I will take our team any day of the week, especially when they play like that,” Bullard said.
CIAA player of the year Keyona Bryant (Sr./Springdale, Md.) finished with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds in her last game in a Lady Falcon uniform. During her career, Bryant became the school's modern career scoring leader and three-time All-CIAA selection. She ended her university career with 1,601 points.
Umeka Benson (Soph./Charlotte, N.C.) added 15 points and Victoria Davis (Soph./San Diego, Calif.) had 12 points and seven rebounds as four players scored in double figures for the Lady Falcons, who outscored the Lady Bears 44-33 in the second half.
Alsea Williams led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points and Kyrie Buford added 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Lady Bears, who were hard on the Lady Falcons during the regular season. The Lady Bears, who won the Southern Division title and posted a league-best 15-1 CIAA mark, took both regular-season games by an average of 42.5 points.
The Lady Bears (21-6), the defending CIAA champions, appear headed toward another rout in the third meeting. They built a 47-29 halftime lead on 55 percent shooting, and the only question left was how much the Lady Bears would win by this time.
The Lady Falcons, the No. 5 Southern Division seed, answered that question with a relentless second half effort, their best against their nemesis this season. The run started after a St. Aug player and a Shaw player were ejected simultaneously early in the second half.
The ejections fired up the Lady Falcons, who trailed 52-33 at the time. They used a 32-14 run to slowly chip away at the deficit. The run was capped by Ebony Spencer's (Soph./Chesapeake, Va.) layup, which sliced the Lady Bears' lead to 66-65 with 5:31 left.
“We wanted to come out in the second half with a sense of urgency,” Bullard said. “I told them,' This is it! We've got to fight and we've got to play every single second of every single minute.”'
The Lady Falcons clearly had the momentum in the second half, but they missed two chances to either take the lead or tie. That was the closest they would get. Crystal Harris (11 points, 10 rebounds, four steals) was key down the stretch for the Lady Bears, scoring six straight points, including a critical three-point play, which pushed their lead to 72-65 with 3:08 to play.
The Lady Falcons' Denika Harden, who made four three-pointers all year, canned her third of the game to close the gap to 72-68, but Buford responded with a long three for a 75-68 lead. The Lady Bears led by nine points with 17 seconds to go.
The contest provided a glimpse of the future for the Lady Falcons. With senior Brittany Torain (Warner Robins, Ga.) out because of injury in Tuesday's win over Elizabeth City State, freshmen guards Denika Harden (Greensboro, N.C.) and Jasmine Cuffee (Norfolk, Va.) stepped up big in the second half during the Lady Falcons' rally.
Harden scored a career-high 11 points and Cuffee inspired her teammates with non-stop hustle and clever passing. It was her steal that led to Spencer's layup which trimmed the Lady Falcons' deficit to one late in the game.
“I'm always nervous about the babies,” Bullard said about her freshmen guards. “But with Brittany down, we had to rely on them. Even though Li'Esa [Barnett] and Morgan [Mitchell] didn't play, I could hear them cheering loudly for their teammates on the bench. They are the future for the Lady Falcons.”
If Wednesday was any indication, next season looks bright. The Lady Falcons lose only three seniors including Bryant.
“We fought hard,” Bullard said. “I am absolutely proud of the kids."
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