Bryan women remain No. 1 in AAC Standings
ATHENS, Tenn. – The No. 1 spot in the Appalachian Athletic Conference standings continues to be held down by the Bryan College women’s basketball team, and the Lady Lions put another key victory between them and the rest of the pack as they went on the road Monday evening and defeated the Bulldogs of Tennessee Wesleyan University 82-70. The Bulldogs, who are currently receiving votes in the NAIA Coaches’ top-25 poll, are one of only three teams in the AAC to get the best of the Lions this season. Bryan made sure this time around that they would be the team to rise to the top, and that’s just what they did as they rallied behind four lions who registered double-digit performances.
The duo of Tristan McClellan and Karli Combs netted 16 points apiece, while McClellan was also the team’s assists and rebounds leader with six and eight, respectively. McClellan shot 6-of-10 in the game and went a spotless 4-of-4 behind the three-point line. Six of Combs’ points were recorded behind the arc, and she also connected on 4-of-5 at the foul line. Deandra Luna slid in behind them with 14 points, finished 5-of-11 from the floor and 4-of-6 on free throws. She aided with four rebounds and five assists. Tonesha Allison posted 10 points with an efficient 5-of-7 effort. Sarah Cain notched nine points, which were all makes from deep. Amber Levi finished with eight points and five rebounds, Keneisha Love totaled four points and five boards, Shayla Ludy went for three points, and Leann Scharberg wrapped up the scoring with two points.
Together, Bryan shot 45.3 percent while nearly averaging 50 percent through the first two quarters. Tennessee Wesleyan struggled to keep pace with Bryan as the Lions locked in 8-of-10 three-pointers in the opening half and ended at 64.7 percent from downtown. Bryan drained 13-of-20 at the foul line compared to Tennessee Wesleyan who went 12-of-14. The Bulldogs closed out the evening shooting 38.5 percent and just 28.6 from long range. The home team also fell behind on the boards as the Lions had the slight 38-31 advantage.
Bryan stands at 20-6 overall and 17-3 in conference play with Reinhardt University (Ga.) in second in the AAC at 15-5 against conference opponents, Tennessee Wesleyan in third at 15-6, Point University (Ga.) at 14-6, and Brenau University (Ga.) coming in at No. 5 with a 13-6 AAC mark.
The Lions and Bulldogs matched each other in the first and third quarters with each battling for 16 points in the beginning and then 11 points to start the second half, but Bryan made up room in the second and four quarters.
Three ties and five lead changes occurred in the low scoring first quarter. Tennessee Wesleyan used a pair of three’s to grab their largest advantage of the period at 6-2, but a three-pointer by Levi and a mid-range jumper dropped in by Luna propelled Bryan into the lead at 7-6. Another trey by the Bulldogs allowed them to regain the edge, but it was short-lived as the Lions were able to tie it at 9’s and 11’s. In the last minute of the frame, McClellan took the game into her hands as she sank a shot inside and then showed her distance with a long three-pointer. Her determination looked like it would put Bryan in the lead heading into quarter number two, but Tennessee Wesleyan was able to answer to even the score 16-16.
Another four ties and six lead changes followed in the second period. Even though it was a back-and-forth battle, the Lions were the ones who led for the majority of the time and ended on top by outscoring the Bulldogs 8-3 in the last two minutes. The score was leveled at 19-19, Bryan then led until Tennessee Wesleyan locked up the score 24-24, and it eventually turned into 31-31 and then 34-34. McClellan sparked the rally with a dagger three-pointer, Combs took her turn behind the arc, a Bulldog broke the silence with a three-pointer, and Allison scored on a last-second look to enter halftime in front 42-37.
The third quarter started fast but ended extremely slow as 16 of the 22 total points produced in the frame came in the first five minutes. During the other five minutes that followed, Scharberg posted up and scored in the paint at the four-minute mark, Levi went on to make the front side of two free throws, and McClellan extended Bryan’s advantage to five points, 53-48, with 38 seconds on the clock when she rose up from outside and hit the three-pointer as the Lions silenced the Bulldogs for half of the quarter.
Even though the difference was slim, Bryan never allowed Tennessee Wesleyan to claim the lead in the final quarter. Luna scored with 1:44 remaining to give the Lions a 75-67 lead and went on to make a free throw one minute later for a nine-point cushion. The Bulldogs kept the hope alive with a made three-pointer with 35 seconds to go, but Tennessee Wesleyan was forced to foul and Luna made both foul shots to lead 78-70. The Bulldogs attempted three more treys but all came up short. Combs grew the margin to double-digits with four made free throws down the stretch, sealing an 82-70 final.
After piecing together a pair of big conference victories, Bryan will try to gain another one and build on the momentum as they play host to the Buffaloes of Milligan College (Tenn.) on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 5:30pm.