Bryan’s Dominant Second Half Earns 84-65 Win
DAYTON, Tenn. – It was only two days ago that The Sun Conference member College of Coastal Georgia took fellow Appalachian Athletic Conference rival Tennessee Wesleyan University to the final seconds before the Bulldogs pulled off the one-point victory. On Monday, it looked like the Mariners would force another close contest when the Bryan College women’s basketball team played host to Coastal Georgia in their season-opener. The Mariners managed to lead the Lions 29-26 at the half, but then Bryan proved why they are selected as the favorite to win the 2018-19 AAC women’s basketball championship, as well as, rank 23rd in the NAIA Coaches’ Top-25 Preseason Poll. Hitting nearly 72 percent from the floor in the last two quarters, including a blistering 61.5 percent from three-point range, overwhelmed the Mariners as the Lions outscored the visitors 34-20 in the third quarter and closed with a 24-16 fourth quarter for the 84-65 comeback win.
Bryan improved to 1-0 while Coastal Georgia fell to 0-2. Leading the Lions’ attack was reigning AAC Freshman of the Year and All-Conference First Team member, Karli Combs, who connected on 5-of-10 from behind the arc while adding another mid-range jump shot for 17 points. Last year she played a major role in helping Bryan rank among the best nationally in three-point shooting, including 3rd in three-point percentage (39.1) and 4th in total three-pointers made (321), and has already set out to better even last season’s numbers. The only other Bryan player to score double-digits was Leann Scharberg who dropped 10 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting. Deandra Luna had an all-around performance, aiding on the scoring with eight points while dishing out a team-high nine assists. The duo of Amber Levi and Sarah Cain matched Luna with eight points apiece. Shayla Ludy totaled seven points, trailed by To’Nesha Allison and Tesa Johnson with six points, respectively. Rounding out the scoring was three Lions in Destiny Kassner, Tristan McClellan, and Jane Fuqua who each notched four points. Keneisha Love aided with two points and corralled a team-best five rebounds.
As a team, the Lions shot 55.7 percent in the game, 41.6 percent from long range, and were 66.7 percent at the foul line while holding the Mariners to a 36.7 percent shooting average in the outing, including a mere a 17.6 percent at the three-point line. Bryan narrowly edged past Coastal Georgia on the boards 34-33 but turned the ball over 24 times compared to the Mariners who did 20 times. The Lions were efficient at the foul line hitting 6-of-9 but were unable to deal damage like the Mariners who made 18-of-29 free throws.
Levi was the first Lion to score this season, swiping a steal and going coast-to-coast on the opening play of the game for the easy layup. Next was Scharberg who capitalized in the paint, providing Bryan with a quick 4-0 lead. Unfortunately, Coastal Georgia battled back to tie the count 4-4 and remain close at 9-8 with just 2:12 left to play in the opening quarter. In the two-minute span, Fuqua was the only player to make a bucket, as the Lions maintained an 11-8 advantage at the end of quarter number one.
Through the first three and a half minutes of the second frame, Bryan was able to score, but the defense struggled to stop Coastal Georgia from answering. The Lions led 15-12 at 6:54, but a four-point swing pieced together by the Mariners allowed them a glimpse of their first lead of the game at 6:30, 15-16. Despite Coastal Georgia controlling an advantage through most of the latter second quarter, Bryan kept close distance. A free throw from Luna and successful drive and finish by Ludy allowed the Lions to regain the lead 24-23 nearing the three-minute mark, but back-to-back baskets by the Mariners put them back in front 27-24. Ludy converted off a Coastal Georgia turnover, but the Mariners dropped in a pair of free throws just before halftime to capture a 29-26 lead.
A break and reflection on the poor first half were all the Lions needed to rally for a dominating 16-3 run to open up the second half of play. With a comfortable 42-32 lead, Bryan never looked back and slowly built onto the deficit. During the rally, Scharberg sparked it with a bucket under the basket and was capped with a two-pointer from Combs, but in between saw a trio of treys cashed in by Combs before Levi took her turn from behind the arc with a lone three-pointer. The Mariners briefly slimmed the margin to single-digits, but the Lions grew their lead back to 10 points at 49-39 with four minutes left in the third stanza. Moments later, Cain used her physicality to round the edge and draw a foul while making the layup before hitting the free throw to complete the and-one play, pushing Bryan’s lead to 52-40. Three unanswered buckets by McClellan, Johnson, and Cain in the final two minutes made sure that the Lions would keep an 11-point cushion entering the last quarter, 60-49.
Each time Coastal Georgia would score in the fourth quarter, Bryan would counter to eliminate any threat. The dagger came around the 6th-minute when Scharberg used great positioning to score in the paint and was followed by a three-pointer from Combs, propelling the Lions ahead 69-53. The closest Coastal Georgia would come to Bryan in the final minutes was 13 points at first 70-57 and then 72-59. Big plays down the final stretch from Luna, Johnson, and Kassner held off the Mariners. In the last minute, Cain used a three-pointer and Kassner scored down low, helping seal the 84-65 triumph.
Up next for Bryan is a visit to Southern States Athletic Conference opponent Martin Methodist College (Tenn.) on Thursday, Nov. 1 with tipoff slated for 6:30pm.
For the full Bryan College women’s basketball schedule, click here.