Lady Lions win 69-64 behind Deandra Luna’s 20 points
KINGSPORT, Tenn. – The 23rd-ranked Bryan College women’s basketball team narrowly avoided elimination in the opening round of Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament play as they escaped the grips of the 7th-seeded Milligan College (Tenn.) Buffaloes Thursday night 69-64. The victory catapults the No. 2 seed Lions into the semifinal round, setting up a rematch against Allen University (S.C.) who managed to upset Bryan in the final game of the regular-season and play a part in keeping the Lions AAC Co-Regular-Season Champions instead of winning the title outright. No. 6 seed Allen advanced to the next round after defeating No. 3 seed Point University (Ga.) 56-46 in the last women’s game of day one, notching the only upset in the women’s bracket so far.
All-Conference First Team and All-Freshman Team member, Deandra Luna, led the Lions in the attack as she shot 6-of-14, including 3-of-7 behind the arc, to finish with 20 points. She also helped lead Bryan defensively by grabbing a game-high seven steals. In addition to tying Luna for a team-best three assists and tallying four steals, All-Conference First Team honoree Amber Levi trailed with 19 points after connecting on 6-of-12 with a pair of three-pointers. The only other Lion to notch double-figures was Shayla Ludy, who was voted to this year’s All-Freshman Team. She knocked down 4-of-9 and posted 10 points along with a team-high six rebounds. All-Defensive Team selection, Tonesha Allison, pieced together a strong performance with eight points and five boards. To wrap up the offensive play for Bryan was Tristan McClellan with six points, Sarah Cain with four points, and Karli Combs with two points.
Even though Milligan outshot Bryan 44.6 percent compared to 38.6 percent and outrebounded the Lions 51-26, the Buffaloes would struggle with 27 turnovers as the Lions yielded 14 takeaways. Bryan was also more efficient from long range and went to the foul line for 31 free throws compared to Milligan’s 10 foul shots attempted.
In the first quarter, the back-and-forth battle saw three ties and four lead changes over a short 10-minute span. It began with Levi sinking the first shot of the game to help Bryan control the first lead, 2-0. Milligan responded but so would Luna from deep. After being tied 2-2, the next was 5-5 when a Buffalo scored from outside and two minutes passed before another trey was sunk to provide Milligan with their first lead of the game 8-5, which happened near the five-minute mark. Ludy dropped in back-to-back buckets inside as the Lions regained an edge, 9-8, until the Buffaloes came charging back with a pair of two-pointers to go back out in front. With two minutes on the clock, Levi drove the lane and scored on the and-one play where she went to the foul line and made the free throw to tie the score 12-12. The only other points posted in the last minutes was by Ludy as she scored underneath, putting Bryan ahead 14-12 heading into period number two.
The second quarter was all Bryan as they controlled the lead through the entire frame. At the midway point of the quarter, the combination of Levi, Allison, and McClellan helped extend the difference to nine points, 23-14. Bryan secured their first double-digit separation from Milligan at 3:48 when Allison stole the ball from the Buffaloes and hit Luna who capitalized on the turnover, making it 27-17. On two occasions from shots by Levi, the Lions saw an 11-point lead but in the last two minutes of the first half, the Buffaloes scraped up six straight points to make it a five-point ballgame at the break, 32-27.
Milligan started the third quarter right where they left off in the second as they scored five unanswered points to even the score at 32’s. As Bryan fought to keep the Buffaloes away, they continued to knock on the door, which gave way to four more ties and four lead changes. Milligan owned an advantage until the Lions tied it 37-37. The next time was at 41-41 as Bryan rallied for a 6-0 run that allowed them a brief look in the lead, 43-41. With 49 seconds left in the frame, Luna propelled the Lions back in control with two made free throws and a steal followed by a drained last-second three-pointer for a 48-44 lead.
The Lions oversaw the lead until the Buffaloes came battling back to tie the game 55-55 with six minutes left. It would remain extremely close as Bryan and Milligan tied at 59-59 and then 61-61 before the Lions pulled away for good. The difference maker was a successful three-point play awarded to Allison with 1:07 to play. Bryan made a key defensive stop, which resulted in Milligan being forced to foul. McClellan made one free throw for the Lions, but she got to go back to the line and add another two after forcing the Buffaloes into another turnover. With four seconds on the clock, Milligan threw up a very deep three-pointer and banked it in, but the Buffaloes still trailed 67-64. The Lions inbounded the ball to Combs who ended all hopes of Milligan with her only two points of the game coming at the foul line. Bryan won 69-64, improving to 23-9 overall this season, while reducing Milligan to 18-13 as their season came to a close.
Tournament Schedule – Bracket
Thursday, Feb. 22
Game 1 – No. 1 Reinhardt (25-8) def.. No. 8 Bluefield (15-15) – 66-43 (Box)
Game 2 – No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan (18-10) def.. No. 5 Brenau (20-10) – 70-64 (Box)
Game 3 – No. 2 Bryan (23-9) def. No. 7 Milligan (18-13) – 69-64 (Box)
Game 4 – No. 6 Allen (20-11) def. No. 3 Point (21-9) – 56-46 (Box)
Friday, Feb. 23
Game 5 – No. 1 Reinhardt (25-8) vs. No. 4 Tennessee Wesleyan (18-10) – 6 p.m.
Game 6 – No. 2 Bryan (23-9) vs. No. 6 Allen (20-11) – 8 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 24 – Championship
Game 7 – Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner – 4 p.m.