The UNM women’s basketball team suffered a bitter disappointment Wednesday night, losing a nail-biter in the National Invitation Tournament Championship to Ohio State University 62-61 in The Pit.
The Lobos lost a late lead because of some careless mistakes, and the Buckeyes made several clutch plays in the final minutes to get the victory.
UNM could not get going offensively all night and helped keep OSU in the game with some untimely turnovers. The quickness of Buckeyes bothered the Lobos offensive sets.
“Their pressure got to us and that was the difference,” Lobo head coach Don Flanagan said. “They got out in the passing lanes and we had way too many turnovers. The main thing was that they were too quick.”
The sellout Pit crowd stood in shock as Ohio State thwarted a Lobo celebration with two long 3-pointers by tournament Most Valuable Player Jamie Lewis and four free throws.
Leading 54-50 with 2:33 left, Lewis hit a three well beyond the 3-point line and after a Lobos turnover, Lewis hit another long three to give the Buckeyes the lead 56-54. Senior point guard Nikki Heckroth had a chance to tie the game, but made only one-of-two free throws. The Lobos made a mistake on defense the next time down the court. With 36.9 seconds and the shot clock down to 20, the Lobos had a chance to play good defense and get the ball back. Instead UNM chose to foul and the Buckeyes stepped up and hit their free throws.
“We were just looking to play good defense and get the ball back, but we made an untimely foul,” assistant coach Ed Wyant said. “After that we had to foul and we thought we put two of their shakier free throw shooters on the line.”
OSU’s Caity Matter and UNM junior Molly McKinnon traded free throws. Then D’wan Shackleford made two free throws with 18.2 seconds left to bring the score to 62-59. The Lobos tried to get a three, but had to settle for two points from sophomore Jordan Adams with two seconds left because of Ohio State’s suffocating perimeter defense. After Ohio State forward Courtney Coleman missed a free throw with two seconds remaining, the Lobos could not get another shot off before time expired.
UNM had trouble finding a rhythm offensively for much of the game, but thanks to strong defense and several missed layups by the Buckeyes, the Lobos lead for much of the game. OSU kept its championship hopes alive by going to the glass and getting second chances to score and converting on the Lobos mistakes.
Although the Buckeyes shot only 32 percent and 21 percent in the first half, they scored 24 points off of 19 Lobo turnovers. They also had 16 offensive rebounds and converted them into 15 second-chance points.
The Lobos had a comfortable 32-24 lead at halftime and extended the lead to 12 points early on. However, the Buckeyes battled back, closing to within 40-36 by driving to the basket. UNM looked uncertain of what to do offensively, and the game was tied at 50 with 3:44 left. The Lobos scored the next four points, but Lewis took over.
The game started off sloppy, as both teams looked nervous in front of the awesome sight of the crowd. The Lobos trailed 9-2 early and it could have been more, but the Buckeyes missed several easy scoring opportunities. Behind the relentless offensive rebounding of sophomore forward Chelsea Grear, the Lobos battled back to 11-all. As both teams battled to take the lead, the Lobos made a run at the end of the half. By going inside to Adams, the Lobos scored nine of the next 12 points to take a 10 point lead at the half.
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Adams scored a game-high 20 points and tied a career-high with seven blocks. Senior forward Miranda Sanchez recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Grear had a career-high 15 rebounds.
Lewis scored 19 for OSU and Coleman added 13 points and nine rebounds.
The Lobos shot 42 percent for the game, 44 percent in the second half.
“The crowd was great and so was the game,” Flanagan said. “I am glad we experienced this run.”