Bryan Falls In NAIA National Basketball Tournament Opener

Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Wednesday morning’s first game in the opening round of the 2018 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championships between No. 6-seeded Bryan College and No. 3-seeded Indiana Tech was a tale of two halves. Through the first two periods, the game was controlled by the Warriors as they claimed a 44-24 lead at the break. The Lions, who have demonstrated that they are a third-quarter team through the year, made sure Indiana Tech knew that the game was far from over by outscoring the Warriors 20-12 and briefly cutting the deficit to single digits at the end of the frame.
Bryan hung with Indiana Tech through the final period until the Lions had turned to fouling, where the Warriors went to the line and sealed the 76-60 final.

Bryan got in a hole quickly as the first period unfolded, connecting on just 1-of-15 while Indiana Tech answered by going 10-of-16 for a 23-7 edge after 10 minutes of play. The slow start for the Lions forced them to play catch-up the rest of the game. The Warriors charged ahead for an 11-0 run following the opening tipoff. Karli Combs finally broke the silence for the Lions with a mid-range jumper. Indiana Tech responded with seven unanswered points to lead 18-2 at the two-minute mark. Bryan was able to get on the board with free throws in the final minutes of the first quarter as Deandra Luna made a pair, Tristan McClellan cashed in two, and Sarah Cain dropped in one. 

Keneisha Love, who had a stellar performance and set a new career-high with 16 points, took over the game for Bryan as the second quarter got underway. Indiana Tech made a two-pointer in the paint during the first minute, but over the next six minutes the Warriors learned that sometimes Love hurts. She scored three straight baskets for the Lions and then snagged a defensive rebound and hit Combs who finished the fastbreak layup. Love trailed and found her hot spot around the elbows where she drained the jumper to cap an 11-0 run for Bryan, cutting the deficit to seven at 25-18. Indiana Tech countered with five points, and McClellan tried to stop the momentum with a long three-pointer, but the Warriors were unfazed and pushed their way for nine more points to take over 39-21. Over the last four minutes before halftime, the only bucket for Bryan was a swish from deep by Marlee Sells as Indiana Tech extended the difference to 20 points at the break, 44-24.

The roles reversed during the start of quarter number three as the Lions began to catch fire and the Warriors were off target. By the midway point of the period, Bryan’s defense had tightened and allowed just a lone two-point basket to Indiana Tech while the Lions clawed their way to 14 points. With 4:50 on the clock, Combs rose up behind the arc and was fouled where she went to the free throw line and made all three shots, slimming the gap to eight points at 46-38. The margin stayed at single-digits as Love scored four consecutive points around the second minute. In the final one and a half minutes of the third, the Warriors did just as they had all game and countered Bryan’s run with a run of their own and grew the deficit to 12 points, 56-44, at the end of the period. 

McClellan was trying to spark a last quarter surge for Bryan as she grabbed an offensive rebound and capitalized on the second-chance points to make it a 10-point game during the Lion’s first possession. Over the first three minutes, each side took jabs at each other until Indiana Tech outlasted Bryan. Amber Levi knocked down a three-pointer, McClellan applied pressure with a make from the perimeter, and Love sailed in a mid-range jumper as the Warriors responded with makes of their own in between. Indiana Tech was the first team to make the game-changing defensive stop and go on to score, bringing the score to 66-54. In the final six minutes, the Warriors held the Lions to six points while scoring 10 of their own to register the 76-60 win and lock in their fourth all-time victory on the national stage. 

Love finished with a team-high 16 points, shooting 7-of-10 with a pair of made free throws. Despite being at a size disadvantage, Love kept composure and collected all three blocks for Bryan. She also helped on the boards with five. McClellan turned in an all-around impressive performance as she trailed with 14 points and led the Lions in both assists and rebounds with six dishes and eight boards. She went 5-of-16, including a 2-of-6 showing from downtown. Combs aided with eight points, Levi totaled seven points, and Shayla Ludy produced five points. Other Bryan players to score were Luna with four points, Sells with three points, Tonesha Allison with two points, and Sarah Cain with a lone point. 

The Lions shot a notable 42.4 percent in the latter half, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their 24.2 percent shooting in the first half. For the game, the Warriors outshot the Lions 48.3 percent compared to 33.3 percent, including from outside at 35.3 percent compared to Bryan’s 27.3 percent. Indiana Tech also got the rebounding edge 41-32. While the Warriors had only three steals, the Lions swiped seven and forced Indiana Tech into six more turnovers. The Warriors had DeAnn Kauffman lead the offense with 20 points, followed by double-doubles by both Kendall Knapke and Keanna Gary. Knapke posted 10 points and 10 boards, and Gary tallied 11 points and 15 rebounds. 

Bryan’s season comes to an end with a notable 25-10 overall record, while Indiana Tech improves to 30-4 overall and continues on to the second round and meets with No. 2-seeded University of Jamestown (N.D.) at 8:30 a.m. on Friday.

Highlights this season for the Lions includes sharing the Appalachian Athletic Conference Regular-Season crown with Reinhardt University (Ga.) and defending their 2017 AAC Tournament title by becoming back-to-back conference tournament champions. Bryan ended with a No. 23 ranking in the final NAIA Coaches’ top-25 poll. The Lions also showed to be one of the most explosive offensive squads in the entire NAIA this year, ranking them in the top-10 in three-point percentage (0.391), total three-pointers made (344), and three-pointers made per game (10.118). Their total scoring offense is 10th-best in the country (2,616 points). Their scoring margin at 13.794 is 16th-best, and their 76.941 points per game is the 19th-best scoring offense per game.

The future looks bright for the Lions as only one varsity member is graduating, while Bryan brings back a plethora of young talent. The Lions return the 2018 Freshman of the Year and All-Conference First Team member Karli Combs, All-Conference First Team member Amber Levi, All-Conference First Team member Deandra Luna, All-Freshman Team member Shayla Ludy, and All-Defensive Team member Tonesha Allison. 


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