Lady Lions Basketball Team Goes Undefeated in AAC Title
KINGSPORT, Tenn. – The No. 1 seed Bryan College women’s basketball team defeated conference rival No. 3 seed Tennessee Wesleyan University 75-71 en route to their third straight Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament title! It marked the 30th straight win overall for the Lions this season and their 32nd consecutive triumph over a conference opponent dating back to February 2017. Bryan won three games for the crown last year, battled for an undefeated 26-0 mark in the AAC over the regular-season, and toppled the trio of Montreat College (N.C.), Reinhardt University (Ga.), and lastly Tennessee Wesleyan in this year’s tournament in Kingsport to cap a perfect year against opposing conference teams.
12th-ranked Bryan, who already punched their ticket to their third consecutive visit to the NAIA Div. II Women’s Basketball National Championship in Sioux City, Iowa, after winning back-to-back regular-season championships, will take to the national stage with the best overall record of any NAIA Div. I or II women’s basketball team at 31-1.
Over the three-day AAC Tournament, the efforts of Deandra Luna, Amber Levi, and Shayla Ludy earned them a spot on the All-Tournament Team with Luna garnering MVP status. The story was no different in the championship game, as Ludy led Bryan with 15 points and five rebounds, followed by Levi and Luna with 12 points apiece. Levi was efficient in the finale, shooting 4-of-7 from the floor and 3-of-4 behind the arc. She also grabbed eight rebounds, matching To’Nesha Allison who totaled eight boards and nine points. The victory was especially sweet for the two seniors, as it marked the 100th win for both Levi and Allison during their four-year career at Bryan. Karli Combs tallied nine points, which included a perfect 6-of-6 at the foul line that would prove crucial for the Lions late in the game. Sarah Cain splashed in eight points and secured three rebounds, followed by Tesa Johnson’s seven points and four boards. Destiny Kassner also made the scoring column with a lone three-pointer.
As a team, Bryan shot 36 percent in the game, were 33 percent from deep, and drained 19-of-26 at the foul line. Tennessee Wesleyan was better in overall shooting percentage and three-point looks while making 20-of-29 free throws, but the Lions outrebounded the Bulldogs 42-40, committed just four turnovers to their 13, and created more opportunities than Tennessee Wesleyan.
A foul shot by Luna was Bryan’s only point through two and a half minutes of play before Levi scored off a turnover when Luna came away with a steal, coming within two points of Tennessee Wesleyan at the seven-minute mark of the first quarter, 3-5. The Bulldogs responded with a bucket in the paint, and Ludy tried to slow Tennessee Wesleyan down with two free throws. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs knocked down two straight treys for an eight-point advantage, 13-5, with four minutes remaining. The Lions clawed their way back with a 5-0 run from makes by Cain and Ludy, dropping the deficit as low as three points with two minutes to go, 13-16. The Bulldogs chipped in two three’s in the final moments, helping Tennessee Wesleyan led 26-16 at the end of the period.
The Bulldogs opened up the second quarter with a swish from downtown for what would be their largest lead of the day, 29-16, but the Lions came roaring back with a spectacular 12-1 run to make it a two-point ballgame, 28-30, with just over four minutes left in the half. Eventually, Johnson hit a pair of free throws to level the count 32-32 before delivering another big bucket for the Lions to regain the lead 35-34. Tennessee Wesleyan scored in the paint and then was fouled on a three-pointer where they managed to make all three attempts to lead by four, but Ludy sank a mid-range jumper for the last basket of the first half to trail 37-39 at the break.
The third quarter was the lowest frame in the outing, but it began with two quick makes by both sides, beginning with a two-pointer from the Bulldogs and a trey by Levi. Bryan was able to gain energy on Levi’s shot, as Luna trailed with a three-pointer before Levi fired in two more three’s to complete four made three’s in a row that catapulted the Lions ahead 49-41. Tennessee Wesleyan made it interesting with an 8-0 run that tied the count 49-49. Each time made one free throw, moving the deadlock to 50-50 at 3:27. For the final three and a half minutes, only four points were scored. The first was by the Bulldogs at 1:36 for a quick glimpse of the lead until Johnson collected a board and went coast-to-coast for a layup that tied things up 52-52 at the end of the third period.
Both teams were battling for an edge at the beginning of the fourth, and it was a three-pointer made by Kassner that seemed to chain up the Bulldogs. The outside make helped spark the Lions with Cain scoring in the paint and Luna connecting on three looks underneath for a 65-56 advantage with only 4:20 left to play. Over the next minute, Tennessee Wesleyan gained some traction with two fast scores inside, but Ludy released a dagger trey near the two-minute mark that applied the pressure for a 68-60 Bryan lead. Four straight free throws were made by the Bulldogs, but Combs was fouled and hit both free throws to put the Lions back on top by six, 70-64. Tennessee Wesleyan tried to keep the hopes alive with a quick layup and three-pointer banked in from the corner, but the combination of Luna and Combs at the foul line proved too much for Bulldogs, as Bryan held on for the 75-71 victory.
The Lions now turn their focus to the 28th Annual Div. II NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship, which will run Mar. 6-12 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa. The NAIA Div. II women’s basketball championship bracket reveal is scheduled for Feb. 27 at 7pm ET on the Play NAIA Facebook Page. Milligan College (Tenn.) will be the other team to represent the AAC in the women’s basketball national championship after receiving the automatic birth for being the regular-season runner-up.
To view the 2018-19 team and individual stats for Bryan women’s basketball, click here.