Arieal Johnson scored 15 of her game-high 24 points in the second half and Daria Simmons' steal and layup in the final minute put University of Mount Olive ahead to stay as the Trojans rallied from a 19-point first-half deficit for a 65-63 victory over Erskine College in Conference Carolinas women's basketball Friday at Kornegay Arena. With the win, the Trojans end the regular season on an eight-game winning streak and earn the No. 2 seed in next week's Conference Carolinas Tournament. Mount Olive will play host to No. 7 seed Pfeiffer Monday night.
The comeback was the largest for the Trojan women's basketball team since rallying from 17 points down in a 74-71 victory at Barton in the semifinal round of the 2008 Conference Carolinas Tournament.
After the conclusion of the game, senior players Shy'lia Buie and Anamaria Zjacic, and senior team managers Austin Andrews and Natalie Luna Calderon were recognized during Senior Night Ceremonies.
Mount Olive (18-10 overall, 16-6 Conference Carolinas) pulled within single digits late in the first half, but Erskine built the lead to 13 at halftime and led 52-37 with 3:05 left in the third quarter after a jumper by Naomi Stuger. The Trojans ended the third quarter on an 8-2 runs as Johnson scored the first four points and Ni'ya Styles scored the last four points in the final 31 seconds of the quarter to pull within 54-45.
The Trojans stayed within striking range with a series of 1-for-2 trips to the free throw line before Rachel Fehl's three-pointer from the left wing triggered a 12-0 run. Johnson had two of her four blocked shots during the run and her layup with 2:04 remaining gave Mount Olive its first lead of the game at 62-61.
Erskine (15-13, 14-8) regained the lead on its next possession as Stuger drew a foul in the lane and hit both free throws with 1:52 remaining. Mount Olive committed three straight turnovers, but Erskine turned the ball over on two straight possessions to keep it a one-point game.
On Erskine's next possession, Simmons stripped the ball and went the distance for a layup to put Mount Olive on top for good 64-63 with 36 seconds left. The Flying Fleet had a chance to go back on top after a Trojan foul with 19 seconds left, but missed both free throws. Johnson was fouled on the rebound and hit 1-of-2 free throws.
The Flying Fleet missed a shot attempt with four seconds left and after a scramble for the ball, Kiara Jones pulled down the rebound as the horn sounded.
In the first half, Erskine scored on each of its first four possessions and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. Stuger hit a layup off the opening tip and Kristin Giles hit the first of her three first-half three-pointers during the run. Styles got Mount Olive on the scoreboard with a layup three minutes into the contest.
Erskine's lead reached double digits for the first time at 18-8 on Myranda Parham's three-pointer with 3:51 left in the first quarter. Back-to-back three-pointers by Raygon Hendrix and Giles completed a 12-0 run and gave the Flying Fleet their biggest lead 27-8 with 8:37 left before halftime.
Johnson ended a six-minute Mount Olive scoring drought with a pair of free throws and her 16-foot jumper with 5:22 remaining in the first half capped a 10-0 Trojan run to cut the margin down to single digits. Mount Olive got as close as 31-26 with exactly three minutes remaining on Felicity Havens' three-pointer, the Trojans' first successful three-pointer of the contest. Erskine ended the half on a 10-2 run, highlighted by Hendrix's end-to-end layup off her own steal and a three-pointer, to extend its lead to 41-28 at the break.
Mount Olive was 1-for-6 from three-point range in the first half and 2-for-9 for the game. Erskine was 7-for-12 from three-point range in the first half, but only 2-for-11 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Johnson pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds for her 10th double-double of the season. Jada Bacchus added 11 points and eight rebounds as Mount Olive outrebounded Erskine 47-34.
Parham led four Erskine players in double figures with 19 points. Hendrix flirted with a triple-double with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Mount Olive swept the regular season series against Pfeiffer, winning 85-50 at Pfeiffer and 70-49 at Kornegay Arena. The two teams are facing each other in the conference tournament since the Trojans defeated the Falcons 79-74 in overtime in the Championship Game of the 2013 tournament.
Monday's tip-off is 7 p.m. at Kornegay Arena. First-round winners advance to the "final four," which will be hosted by the highest remaining seed. The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the Southeast Regional of the 2016 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship.
The Trojans have reached the title game of the conference tournament in each of the last three years.