Many thought what the top-ranked Bryan women’s basketball program achieved last season would be impossible to replicate, but over the weekend the Lions closed the chapter on their second straight undefeated Appalachian Athletic Conference campaign with a perfect 24-0 record in AAC play after a victory over Columbia College (S.C.) 95-60. The win also made for a monumental moment in the career of Bryan Head Coach Jason Smith, as it marked his 200th victory as Head Coach of the Lions.
Coach Smith and the Lions have been a dominating force in the AAC, capturing their third consecutive conference regular-season title, winning 56 straight games against conference opponents, are looking to defend their AAC tournament crown for a fourth consecutive year, and currently own the best overall record in all of NAIA Div. II women’s basketball at 28-1. Under the guidance of the reigning AAC Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year, the Lions have already punched their ticket to the NAIA Div. II National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa for a fourth straight year while moving up to a No. 13 ranking in the latest NAIA Coaches’ Top-25 poll.
Only three days after posting a season-high 17 points in leading the Lions to victory over Milligan College, Bryan’s lone senior and Byrdstown, Tennessee native Tristan McClellan registered a new season-high while producing her second-highest scoring performance of her career with a team-high 18 points in the triumph over Columbia. McClellan was 6-for-11 from the floor, 2-for-4 behind the arc, and a perfect 4-for-4 at the foul line while chipping in three assists and two rebounds. Four other Lions scored double-figures with Kaitlynn Hennessee trailing at 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-6 from the perimeter. Sarah Cain was an efficient 5-of-6 shooting and knocked down 2-of-3 from deep in scoring 12 points. Both Destiny Kassner and Karli Combs tallied 10 points, respectively. Combs went 3-of-6 from three-point territory. Kassner aided with four boards, two assists, one block, and matched Deandra Luna with a team-high three steals. Luna ended with two points but dished out a team-leading six assists. Shayla Ludy and Amadea Pankey flirted with double-digits, dropping nine and eight points, respectively. Pankey led the way for Bryan in the rebounds’ column with eight while Myah Parlier and Cain followed with five rebounds each. Other scorers included Tori Burnette with a pair of three’s, Faith Simmons with a lone three, and Parlier who tacked on three points.
Impressive shooting, controlling the glass, and sharing the ball all resulted in Bryan’s commanding display against Columbia. The Lions shot 47 percent in the game and finished 45 percent from the outside, which included an 8-for-12 effort from the three-point line in the second half. Bryan also took advantage at the free-throw line, making 12-for-19. The Lions held the Koalas to just 35 percent shooting in the game and 32 percent from the outside. Bryan also totaled 22 assists compared to Columbia’s seven. The defensive stand made by the Lions also gave way to five blocks and 12 takeaways.
The closest the Koalas came to the Lions were brief ties in the opening period at 3-3 and 6-6 before Hennessee connected on a look from downtown that provided Bryan with a lead that was held for the rest of the ballgame. At the six-minute mark, the Lions led the Koalas 9-8 and rallied for a 9-0 run to take hold of their first double-digit lead of the game, 18-8. Back-to-back buckets by Hennessee in the 2nd-minute and a successful second-chance basket by Ludy at 1:29 helped Bryan take a 25-15 separation into the second quarter. McClellan and Combs were the only Lions to score, as Bryan kept Columbia quiet through the first four minutes of the second period in leading 30-15. Another significant run by the Lions beginning at 34-20 and ending at 45-20 propelled the home team in front for a 25-point cushion. Ludy scored three more points for Bryan, as the Lions went into the break ahead 48-24.
Cain opened up the scoring in the third quarter with a finish underneath, and the trio of Hennessee, McClellan, and Cain kept the momentum going with eight unanswered points in Bryan seizing a 32-point advantage midway through the frame, 58-26. The Lions went on to outscore the Koalas 24-17 in the period for a 72-41 lead through three quarters of play. Throughout the fourth and final stanza, Bryan countered each Columbia basket with a basket of their own. Burnette and Simmons put on the finishing touches with three treys in the last two minutes of play in guiding the Lions to a 95-60 victory.
Next up for Bryan is the AAC Tournament, which is held in Kingsport, Tennessee at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center Feb. 26-29. The Lions enter as the No. 1 seed and will wait to play the winner of the quarterfinal matchup between No. 8 Milligan and No. 9 Truett McConnell University (Ga.). Bryan’s first game will be at 12 noon on Thursday.
Fans can follow all the action via live stream and stats at the below links:
DakStats Tournament Page
To keep up with the AAC women’s basketball tournament, visit the tournament page here.
On Wednesday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) officially announced the Div. II Women's Basketball Coaches' Top-25 Poll—No. 6, and rising one spot is Bryan women's basketball coming in at No. 13. The Lions and the Eagles of Reinhardt University (Ga.) are the only two teams representing the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) in the top-25. Reinhardt held onto their No. 22 ranking with a 25-2 overall record. Another AAC member in Union College (Ky.) is currently receiving votes.