JACKSON, Tenn. - An unexpected attack led to an abrupt ending for eighth-ranked Oklahoma Baptist University at the NAIA Division I Women's Basketball Championship Tournament Wednesday at Oman Arena.
Lindsey Wilson College built a 21-point lead with torrid outside shooting, then held off a furious Lady Bison rally to claim a 78-74 upset. The Blue Raiders (22-11) will advance to the second round, as OBU's record-setting season concluded with a first-round tournament loss for the second straight year.
LWC used a 21-2 run midway through the second half to gain a 66-45 advantage with 7:05 remaining. The offensive outburst was fueled by five three-point baskets from a team which averaged five per game during the regular season.
OBU contained the Blue Raiders' formidable inside attack for most of the contest, but LWC responded with 20 points from senior guard Kera Gibson, who hit two of her six treys in the decisive run. Fellow senior Krystal Jackson dished out 10 assists and tallied 12 points.
"We made them make shots and they made the shots," said OBU coach John McCullough.
Trailing by 21, the Lady Bison went on a 16-2 run to close the gap to 68-61 with 2:54 remaining. After Gibson stopped the run with a three-pointer at the 1:36 mark, OBU was able to close the gap to 77-71 with 21 seconds left on a basket by Taujhnae Travis, but Travis missed a three-pointer with 11 seconds left, and a free throw by LWC's Moneta Anderson at the 10.8 mark pushed the margin back to seven, sealing the victory.
OBU's comeback, while falling short, was a trademark of the team which finished second in the Sooner Athletic Conference regular season race, compiling a 16-0 mark at home.
"It showed their competitiveness," said McCullough. "We got them a little hesitant and thought we had turned the corner, but we weren't able to knock down the three's."
Travis, a sophomore guard, led OBU with 24 points and had eight rebounds. Senior post Betsy Simmons added 14 points and a team-leading nine rebounds.
OBU, seeded second in its eight-team bracket in the 32-team field, was favored to dispatch the seventh-seeded Blue Raiders.
Junior guard Jennifer Jupin scored 13 points, including an opening three-pointer which helped the Lady Bison jump out to an 8-0 lead. OBU never trailed in the first half, leading 33-23 at the break. LWC used an 8-0 flurry at the start of the second half to take a 40-35 lead. The Blue Raiders never trailed after that point.
The loss denied OBU of a chance to be the first Lady Bison team to claim 30 victories in a season. The team finished 29-5, claiming the best winning percentage in the program's history with an .853 mark.
The first-round exit also marked the end of OBU careers for seniors Keely Tolin, Betsy Simmons and Ashley Gamble.
"Keely had a wonderful four years," said McCullough. "She has basketball savvy and contributed a lot to the team. Betsy brought energy and heart. Ashley comes in as point guard and leads us to 29 wins."
"All of them had great years," said McCullough. "After such a tremendous season where the team went beyond expectations, it just didn't end like you want your senior year to end."
"You are measured by wins and losses, but this team was a great group," said the coach. "They exemplified the way I, as coach, want the team to play. They developed synergy as a unit."
NOTES FROM THE NAIA TOURNAMENT:
OBU was not the only Sooner Athletic Conference team to make an early exit. Oklahoma City University, a top seed in its eight-team bracket, was eliminated by Harris-Stowe College (Mo.), 73-64. Lubbock Christian University, leading 42-25 at the half, held on for an 81-78 victory over St. Xavier College (Ill.) in the tournament's opening game. The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma played top-ranked Union University late Wednesday, while Southern Nazarene University will open tournament play at 9 a.m. Thursday versus Trevecca Nazarene University.
The Lady Bison spent part of Tuesday visiting patients at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. The team was sponsored by the hospital, and hospital officials worked with OBU players to deliver flowers to hospital patients.
Despite the early upset, OBU maintained a streak of 13 consecutive tournament appearances. The Lady Bison trail only Union University for the longest current string of tournament appearances.