03/08/09 — Mount Olive moves closer to second straight regional berth

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Mount Olive moves closer to second straight regional berth

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 8, 2009 9:55 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Gut it out.

Play with poise.

Rely on experience.

Mount Olive did all three Friday evening.

Senior forward Tomeka Prichard poured in 18 of her team-leading 20 points in the second half as the Trojans upended Belmont Abbey 70-59 in their semifinal-round, Conference Carolinas women's basketball contest.

"Prichard came up big ... was the difference in the game in the second half," said Belmont Abbey coach Susan Yow, the sister of the late Kay Yow, a Hall of Fame coach at N.C. State. "They went up 11, we cut it to five and then she hit a three. That almost took the air out of our balloons."

Prichard converted 6 of 9 field goals in the second half for the second-seeded Trojans, who advanced to today's championship game against fifth-seeded Anderson (S.C.) University. The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.

Tip-off is 2 p.m. at Kornegay Arena.

Belmont Abbey (19-10 overall) used a half-ending 13-8 run to grab a 27-22 lead at intermission. Mount Olive toiled through a nine-minute stretch without a field goal and committed 12 first-half turnovers.

The third-seeded Crusaders owned the boards 23-18.

"(At halftime) we made adjustments that we needed to make on defense and crashed the boards a lot harder," said Prichard.

Mount Olive took away what Belmont Abbey did best in the second half. The Trojans played harder on the ball and prevented the Crusaders' backcourt -- Ashley Giddens, Courtney Naquin and Asha Hardaway -- from finding open teammates for high-percentage shots.

The Crusaders missed all seven 3-point attempts in the second half.

"For us to give up 48 points, you'd have to say we're not playing any defense," said Yow of her team's second-half effort. "I don't think we had a very good game in the backcourt. Our shooting percentage was very poor.

"We're an inside-oriented team and not a 3-point shooting team. That's not our game."

The teams battled through three lead changes and two ties early in the second half. Prichard's 3-pointer, off Brittney Robich's assist, ignited a 12-2 run which lasted more than four minutes.

Jasmine Whitby, who just missed a double-double with 16 points and eight rebounds, contributed two baskets. Brittany Miller added a conventional three-point play and Prichard buried another 3-pointer to make it 54-43.

Belmont Abbey closed within 54-49 on back-to-back baskets from Shayla Jackson (game-high 22 points) and Emma Camp. But Prichard drained another 3-pointer and Shequanta McGee later hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to vanquish the Crusaders' upset bid.

"I know my team wanted the game and I'm not taking anything away from Mount Olive, but I think the difference might be Mount Olive has been there (in the championship) and won one, and we've knocked at the door twice," said Yow. "The experience factor played a huge role. Mount Olive had the intangibles of poise and patience, and our team really got rattled when they got down 11."

The Trojans secured their second consecutive appearance in tournament final by hitting 5 of 7 free throws in the last 89 seconds of regulation. Mount Olive earned its first home victory over Belmont Abbey since 2007 and has won five of the last nine meetings in the series since 2005.

Prichard, who held the sharp-shooting Naquin to five points, played all 40 minutes along with McGee. Miller supplied 10 points and five rebounds. Robich ended up with 11 points, eight assists and three steals in nearly 37 minutes of action.

"It all came together at the right time for us ... we gutted it out," said MOC head coach Wendy Lee, whose team shot a blistering 67 percent (18 of 27) from the floor in the second half.