JACKSON, Tenn. – History was made on Friday afternoon as the Lee women’s basketball team won the program’s first NCAA National Tournament game with a thrilling a 66-64 victory over North Alabama in the South Region Quarterfinals.
The Lady Flames held a four-point advantage with just 13 seconds remaining but missed two free throws to keep things interesting in the waning seconds.
The Lions rushed down the court and cut the deficit to 66-64 on an Emma Wallen layup with just four seconds left. Lee then committed an untimely turnover with just two ticks on the clock allowing UNA a last-second opportunity to tie or win.
Sophomore Abby Bertram came up with a huge block on Brittany Panetti’s shot but Wallen picked up the deflection and was fouled with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock. The all-conference player missed the foul shots however to seal the win for the Lady Flames.
“To be able to win game back in the city of Jackson (the site of several NAIA National Tournaments) in a national tournament environment which has such rich tradition for us is a big moment for our basketball program. This is the first ever national tournament win and we’ve worked really hard,” said an emotional head coach Marty Rowe. “I’ve got a great group of seniors that have believed in what we’re doing for four years and now to have them get the chance to experience this is a big moment for them and for our program.”
Rowe’s seniors played a big role in the victory. Erin Walsh finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. Shelby Brown added 13 points while former Sonoraville High standout Carrie Cheeks scored 10 and grabbed seven rebounds. Haley Cornellison came off the bench and hit two big triples, including one with 2:59 left in the fourth to give Lee a four-point advantage.
Bertram made it four-players in double-figures for the balanced Lee attack with 11 points and was active defensively with three steals.
“I think we just try and have the mindset as a team that there is going to be highs and lows during the game but we were able to push through together and make some big plays down the stretch,” added Brown.
The Lions jumped out to an early 10-point lead in the first quarter before the Lady Flames settled in thanks to six points from Cheeks to spark a 12-4 run to end the opening period. Lee trailed by just two at the half despite committing 12 first half turnovers.
From there it was a classic battle between the two Gulf South Conference rivals with neither team separating themselves by more than six points the rest of the contest. The scrappy Lee defense turned the Lions over 17 times and only had seven giveaways in the second half.
Lee shot 41.5 percent from the field and connected on 7 of 15 from 3-point land. The Lions finished 40 percent the field and converted just 3 of 13 from beyond the arc.
“Our guards did a good job of defending the perimeter and not letting No. 1 (Ivy Wallen) get open. I think we made her work for everything she got and that was a real point of emphasis in practice this week for us,” said Walsh.
Panetti led North Alabama with 21 points and hauled in eight rebounds. Wallen finished with 10 points but was limited to just 4 of 11 shooting from the field. Kenysha Coulson added seven points and eight rebounds.
“We wanted to go inside and get the ball to Carrie and Shelby and we did a nice job of that for the most part. We missed some open shots which didn’t allow us to get on a big run but we were able to do enough to separate from them in second half and then hold on late,” noted Rowe. “I think we have a pretty good balance offensively and our at our best when we are moving the ball inside and then creating open looks on the outside off of that ball movement,” said Rowe.
Lee improves to 24-7 on the year while North Alabama’s season comes to a close at 24-5.
Cheeks’ career comes to an end with Lee’s OT loss
JACKSON, Tenn. – In another thrilling postseason battle between two conference foes the Lee women’s basketball team’s historic season came to a tough end on Saturday night, falling to Valdosta State, 61-57 in overtime.
The Lady Flames held a nine-point advantage with 2:30 remaining after Abby Bertram nailed a 3-pointer but the Blazers ended regulation on a 9-0 run to force the game into an improbable overtime period.
The run was jump started by a questionable offense foul on the Lady Flames when they were up nine with the ball with just two minutes remaining. From there the Blazers took advantage and nailed a pair of 3-pointers and forced a couple of turnovers to take back the momentum.
Bertram had a chance to give the Lady Flames the victory in the final second of regulation but her shot just missed off the iron.
Senior Erin Walsh finished her brilliant four-year career with 13 points and moved to No. 6 on Lee’s all-time scoring list with 1,824 points. Former Sonoraville High standout Carrie Cheeks tallied 11 points before fouling out in the waning seconds of regulation. Lindsey Roddy added nine points and five rebounds and Bertram ended with seven points.
“We didn’t execute well down the stretch. We had a tough call go against us but we still had chances to finish the game off in regulation,” said head coach Marty Rowe.
“Valdosta is a good team and made some plays but I’m certainly disappointed things didn’t go our way. We just didn’t make enough big plays down the stretch. We had it and let it get away and I hate for our kids but that happens sometimes in this game.”
Bertram went coast to coast and made an off-balanced shot in the lane at the buzzer to end grind it out first half and pull the Lady Flames within one at 25-24.
Lee was forced to play all but four minutes of the half with all-conference forward Carrie Cheeks on the bench with two quick fouls.
When asked about her improvement as a player over her career Cheeks noted, “I set a goal to try and get better each and every year and be one of the best post players in this league. My coaching staff did a great job of helping me reach the goals and be able to be one of the top forwards in such a talented league.”
Maddi Mitchell, a GSC all-conference selection, led the Blazers with 22 points and had nine rebounds. Taylor Buie added 12 points and seven rebounds while Kayla Bonilla put in 13.
“At this point in the season when it gets down to the final 32 you have to be sharp for 40 minutes and we were really sharp for 38,” added Rowe. “Everyone should be really proud of our program and this team because we had a great run. These seniors are so special to me. They are fighters and I’m so proud of them. Our program is built off of relationships and these are very special girls who gave it their all.”
The Blazers held a 37-28 advantage on the glass and grabbed 11 offensive boards. Lee limited Valdosta to just 33.3 percent shooting but they did hit 10 triples. The Lady Flames finished 41.5 percent from the field.
In a similar situation to yesterday’s game Lee struggled to take care of the basketball and ended with 18 turnovers. The Lady Flames forced the Blazers into 16 floor mistakes.
“This has been a great year and I’m glad we were able to accomplish all that we did during my senior year,” said Walsh.
The Lady Flames special season ends at 24-8 overall. Valdosta State improves to 23-8 and advances on to the NCAA South Region Championship to meet the winner of No. 1 seed Union and No. 4 seed Embry-Riddle.