After a three-game losing streak to end the regular season and a path through the conference tournament against teams that all swept Mount Olive during the regular season, few would have expected the Trojans to go deep into the tournament. Three wins later, the Trojans have another tournament to prepare for.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Jasmine McDonald pulled down 17 rebounds and played the final 16 minutes of the game with four fouls as fifth-seeded Mount Olive pulled off its third straight upset, third straight road win and second straight overtime win as the Trojans defeated third-seeded Pfeiffer 79-74 in the championship game of the 2013 Conference Carolinas Women's Basketball Tournament Sunday at Misenheimer, N.C. With the win, Mount Olive earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
The NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship Selection Show takes place tonight at 10 p.m. on the Women's Basketball page on ncaa.com.
Joining McDonald on the All-Tournament Team for the Trojans were Joneiqua Gary and Tamara Nesmith. Nesmith averaged 20.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in the tournament, while Gary scored in double figures in all three tournament games and scored five of her 14 points Sunday in overtime.
Kirksten Mitchell, who also averaged 20.3 points per contest in the tournament, led all players with a career-high 24 points Sunday.
"We got some big games, big minutes from so many players," said Trojan head coach Wendy Lee. "Everybody contributed."
With the score tied 70-70, both teams had golden opportunities to win the game in the half-minute of regulation, but both teams came up short. Pfeiffer missed a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left and Kirstin Mobley pulled down the rebound, giving Mount Olive (18-11) a chance to play for the last shot.
The Trojans called timeout with 12 seconds left and McDonald drove the lane for a layup attempt off the left glass. The ball appeared to be heading in, but rattled out. Pfeiffer got the rebound and Mount Olive got the rebound, putting the Falcons on the line with two seconds left. But once again, both free throws were off-target and the score remained tied at the end of regulation.
After not having played any overtime games during the regular season, Mount Olive went to the extra period for the second time in as many games in the tournament. Gary's three-pointer on Mount Olive's first possession in overtime broke a 70-70 tie and the Trojans led the rest of the way.
"In practice, we play five minute games, so we were prepared for overtime," said McDonald, a 5-7 junior guard from Lorton, Va. "That helps us in close games."
Brittany Cox's basket pulled Pfeiffer (24-6) within a point with 4:05 remaining, but the Falcons would come up empty on their next six possessions with five missed shots and a turnover.
Mobley pulled down an offensive rebound on a missed three-point attempt and Nesmith hit a jumper with 3:35 left to give Mount Olive a 75-72 lead. After a missed three-pointer by Pfeiffer, Nesmith sank a pair of free throws to make it a two-possession game at 77-72 with 2:50 remaining.
Neither team was able to score until Gary iced the game with a pair of free throws with nine seconds left to extend the Trojans' lead to 79-72. Kellie Rhoney hit a layup for Pfeiffer with two seconds left, but Mount Olive would inbound the ball and celebrate its second conference championship and first since 2008.
McDonald nearly had a double-double in the first half with nine points and 12 rebounds, but also had three fouls in the first half. She picked up her fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half and went to the bench. McDonald returned to the floor with 11:56 remaining in regulation and never returned to the bench.
"I was a little scared at first of picking up my fifth foul, especially since they started taking it right at me," said McDonald. "I just tried to be smarter on defense, move my feet and not reach in."
Pfeiffer capitalized on McDonald's absence, opening the second half with an 11-2 run to overcome a four-point halftime deficit as Bridget Rothert's three-pointer gave the Falcons a 42-37 lead. Alexandra Silva then brought Mount Olive back with her own 7-2 run on a jumper, two free throws and a three-pointer to tie the game 44-44 with 13:04 left in regulation.
Pfeiffer held Mount Olive scoreless over the next three minutes as Carter Williams' three-pointer highlighted a run of eight unanswered points and gave the Falcons their biggest lead of the game at 52-44 with 10:29 remaining.
Mitchell sparked a Trojan comeback with a three-point play and after Alyssa Luebs connected on a pair of free throws, Mitchell tied the game 58-58 on a three-pointer with 6:17 left. The two teams traded points and Gary broke a 60-60 tie with a three-pointer with 5:01 remaining.
After Cox hit a pair of free throws to bring Pfeiffer within a point, Mitchell hit her fourth three-pointer of the game to extend the Trojans' lead to four. Mitchell then answered two more Cox free throws with a jumper to give Mount Olive a 68-64 lead with 3:37 left.
Pfeiffer pulled within a basket on a layup by Cox and a Mount Olive turnover led to a jumper by Rhoney to tie the game 68-68 with 1:59 left. Gary's jumper with 1:12 remaining put Mount Olive back on top, but Christine Harvey sank a pair of free throws with 59 seconds left, setting up a dramatic end to regulation.
In the first half, Mount Olive spotted Pfeiffer the first five points of the game before Mitchell's three-pointer and Luebs' two free throws evened the score. Silva gave the Trojans their first lead of the game at 10-9 with a pair of free throws with 12:16 left and the Trojans never trailed again in the first half.
The margin grew to as many as seven in the first half as McDonald's putback capped a 6-0 run and gave Mount Olive a 20-13 lead with 8:12 remaining. Pfeiffer battled back as Harvey's three-point play and a layup after a Trojan offensive foul capped a Falcon run to tie the game 26-26 with 3:46 left before halftime.
McDonald's layup on Mount Olive's next possession put the Trojans back on top and Mitchell followed with a fastbreak jumper. Pfeiffer pulled within a point, but Mitchell hit a three-pointer with 49 seconds left and Silva's steal led to a layup by Gary with 20 seconds remaining as Mount Olive led 35-31 at the break.
McDonald scored 10 points for her second straight double-double and also dished out a game-high five assists. Silva, who finished with nine points, and Luebs were both a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Luebs pulled down 10 rebounds for her second straight double-digit rebound performance. Mobley added seven boards as the Trojans outrebounded Pfeiffer 61-49.
Mount Olive had outrebounded top-seeded and nationally eighth-ranked Limestone 56-41 two nights ago in the Trojans' 79-66 overtime victory in the semifinal round.
Harvey posted one of two Pfeiffer double-doubles with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Lemons also had a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Both players were named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Tia Williams of Limestone and Ashley Thornton of Barton.
The Mount Olive women's basketball team, which is making its second NCAA Tournament appearance, has the distinction of being the only Trojan sports team in school history to get a win in its first-ever NCAA Tournament game. Mount Olive defeated No. 1 seed and tournament host Indiana (Pa.) 62-56 in the first round of the 2008 NCAA II East Regional.
The Trojans won their first six games of the 2012-13 season and had a 12-3 record before struggling during the month of February. Lee says the Trojans' struggle may have been to their advantage in the tournament.
"Playing teams that beat us twice this season, that gave us added motivation during the tournament," said Lee. "We had nothing to lose and everything came together."
As for pre-tournament speeches, "I just said what all coaches said, that we play the entire season to get to the conference tournament. All teams start with a clean slate. All teams are 0-0."