FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Understandably, University of Saint Francis head coach Jason Ridge had a relieved smile on his face after his Lady Cougars held on for a 79-74 win over Mt. Vernon Nazarene University on Saturday afternoon.
The USF Lady Cougars won their fourth consecutive game and climbed to a three-way tie for third place with Taylor and Grace in the Crossroads League.
USF outscored MVNU 19-6 in the third quarter to lead 58-39 with just 10 minutes to play, but the Cougars from Ohio outscored USF 35-21 in the fourth quarter to make things a little too interesting from Ridge’s perspective.
“We keep havin’ these turnovers late in the game and we’re gonna have to get those cleaned up,” Ridge said. “You have to tip your hat to Mt. Vernon. They just kept comin’. We couldn’t shake ’em. You’ve got to give them credit. They were makin’ plays.”
Fortunately, USF was on target at the free-throw line and in the position where MVNU had to foul hoping the Lady Cougars would miss. USF did miss, just three times in 16 trips to the line to keep MVNU at arms length. Dani Ellerbrook’s 3-pointer with six seconds to play cut the MVNU deficit to two, 76-74, but Lauren McBryar hit the second free throw for a 77-74 lead. MVNU turned the ball over and McBryar was fouled and returned to the free-throw line hitting both with just a second to play.
USF hit 13-of-16 free throws in the final 4:16, McBryar 8-of-10 during that stretch to finish with a career-high 26 points.
“We knew we were going to have some tough battles with such a young team, but this league is tough to win in and for us to come out and pull out another one, I’m really proud of them,” Ridge asserted.
The win moved USF to .500 overall at 9-9, more importantly 4-2 in Crossroads League action.
“For us to climb back here in January and get ourselves back to .500, it says a lot about our team and just hangin’ in there,” Ridge told Jeff Mahoney. “(Lauren) was outstanding, but the girl can play. At the beginning of the season, she was just scoring off of toughness. I thought she did a nice job today of going to the basket off the dribble. She knocked down some 3s, she hit her free throws, she scored in a variety of ways. She’s also gotten much better on the defensive end of the floor. It’s nice to see her playing with some confidence.”
McBryar was one of five Lady Cougars scoring in double figures and she outscored Ellerbrock, MVNU’s top scorer, by a point. Kara Gerka scored 13 points, Quila Jackson and Josie Murphy scored 11 apiece and Paige Frisch finished with 10 points for USF. McBryar finished 11-for-15 from the free-throw line and connected on 3-of-5 3-pointers.
USF and MVNU were tied six times in the first 11 minutes, but Gerka broke the last tie for a 22-20 lead with 8:44 to play in the second quarter. MVNU got within two points three times before Jackson buried a 3-pointer for a 34-29 lead with 1:34 to play. McBryar buried a 3-pointer as the clock ran out for a 39-33 lead at halftime.
USF shot .793 from the free-throw stripe connecting on 28-of-37 attempts. MVNU hit 11-of-15 free throws.
McBryan’s best proved to be pretty good, a career best for McBryar and season high for USF individual free throws made which helped to offset a 33-23 MVNU rebounding advantage.