INDIANA, PA. - Somebody forgot to tell the Mount Olive College women's basketball team that the No. 8 seed isn't supposed to beat the No. 1 seed - especially when the No. 8 seed is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance and playing on the No. 1 seed's home court.
Lakeisha Monroe scored 16 points and Mount Olive held nationally 12th-ranked Indiana (Pa.) to seven points over the final 12 minutes as the eighth-seeded Trojans eliminated the No. 1 seed and tournament host 62-56 in the first round of the East Regional of the 2008 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Championship.
The win advances the Trojans to Saturday's semifinal round against No. 5 seed Shepherd, which defeated No. 4 seed West Liberty State 65-56. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m.
Making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, Mount Olive (21-10) overcame a quick 2-0 deficit with seven unanswered points as Tomeka Prichard ignited the run with a three-pointer on the Trojans' first possession. Mount Olive built the lead to 10-4 as Prichard connected from beyond the arc for the second time in first two-plus minutes.
"It's always important to get off to a good start, especially playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time," said Trojan head coach Wendy Lee. "Tomeka hitting that three right off the bat got us going right away."
Indiana (27-5) got as closes one point, but Mount Olive was able to maintain the lead beyond the midpoint of the first half. The Crimson Hawks regained the lead 23-22 after Hillary Shope's layup with 8:32 left in the half. Shope capped a 16-4 run with another layup as Indiana took its biggest lead at 35-26 with 3:04 left.
Mount Olive was still down 39-30 in the final minute when the Trojans' bench ignited a comeback. Brittney Robich hit a three-pointer from the top of the key with 45 seconds left. After a defensive stop, Monroe found Sierra Medeiros for a basket underneath with nine seconds remaining to pull Mount Olive within 39-35 at halftime.
Medeiros and Robich combined for 11 points off the bench in the first half.
"Brittney's always ready to go as soon as she steps on the floor," said Lee. "Sierra gives us a presence beyond what shows up in the boxscore."
The first half saw only a combined six fouls, four on Mount Olive and two on Indiana. The Trojans did not go to the free throw line in the first half, while Indiana hit one of its two first-half attempts.
Mount Olive continued the run in the second half as baskets by Helen Moore and Keona Corley tied the game, and Monroe's jumper with 17:11 remaining capped an 11-0 run and put the Trojans back on top 41-39.
Indiana regained the momentum and the lead as Jahzinga Tracey hit a pair of baskets to help give the Crimson Hawks a 47-43 advantage with 13:25 left to play. But the Trojans would dial in from long distance to take back the lead for good.
Monroe cut the margin to one with a three-pointer and after an Indiana basket, Shequanta McGee's second three-pointer of the contest tied the game at 49-49 with 11:54 remaining.
"Shequanta certainly didn't play like a freshman tonight," said Lee. "She shows no fear out there."
After Tracey hit 1-of-2 free throws, Prichard put Mount Olive ahead to stay at 52-50 with a three from the top of the key with 8:59 left to play. The Trojans turned the ball over on a rebound after a missed Indiana three-pointer, but Corley stole the inbounds pass and went the distance to give Mount Olive a four-point lead.
Indiana pulled within a point after a steal and basket by Erin Withers with 3:44 remaining. The Crimson Hawks had a chance to regain the lead, but Alisa Jones made a steal and Keona Corley hit a pair of free throws with 2:38 remaining to make the score 57-54.
Tracey's basket cut Mount Olive's lead to 57-56 with 2:22 left, but Indiana would not score again.
Offensive rebounding saved Mount Olive on its next possession as Corley got the rebound on her own missed layup. Monroe missed on a jumper, but Jones put home the rebound to make it 59-56 with 90 seconds left.
Monroe pulled down the rebound on a missed shot by Tracey and hit 1-of-2 free throws with 1:04 remaining to make it a two-possession game.
Mount Olive turned the ball over on one possession and missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on another possession, but Indiana was unable to take advantage. The Crimson Hawks missed a pair of field goal attempts, including a three-pointer inside of a minute, and Prichard recorded her career-high fourth blocked shot with 18 seconds left.
Moore hit both free throws with 16 seconds left and Indiana missed a pair of three-pointers. The Trojans missed a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining, but Jones pulled down the offensive board to seal the win.
Corley finished with 10 points and six rebounds, while Monroe added five rebounds and five assists. Prichard scored all of her nine points from beyond the arc, while Moore finished with eight points and a team-high eight rebounds. Jones pulled down seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Medeiros, who scored all of her six points in the first half, pulled down six rebounds.
Mount Olive outrebounded Indiana 43-41, including a 27-22 margin in the second half. Both teams shot in the 50 percent range in the first half, but both were under 30 percent in the second half. The Trojans were 9-for-33 from the field in the second half, the Crimson Hawks 6-for-26 in the second half, including 2-for-16 in the final 12 minutes.
"I didn't realize we shot that poorly in the second half (27.3 percent), but give credit to Indiana for playing great defense," said Lee. "By the same token, I'm proud of our defensive effort, holding them to 23 percent."
"Defense and rebounding are what we stress," said Monroe.
"We play a different style of defense than what other teams play," said Corley. "I don't think teams expect that kind of pressure from us."
The Trojans outscored Indiana 24-0 from three-point range. Mount Olive was 8-for-19 from beyond the arc, compared to 0-for-7 for Indiana.
Tracey led all players with 17 points for Indiana. Shope scored all of her 12 points in the first half, while Staci Heberling narrowly missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.
The win was Mount Olive's ninth in its last 10 away games, including its third win in eight days against a regional top 10 team. The Trojans won at regional No. 10 Barton and No. 3 Anderson in last weekend's Conference Carolinas Tournament.
Lee says those two wins helped prepare for Friday's first round game on the top seed's home court."
"Those two games at Anderson and Barton were the best preparation we could have had for today's game," said Lee. "Coming into a hostile environment, playing an excellent team on their court, the conference tournament showed we can win big games against good teams on the road."
"We don't think of ourselves as a No. 8 seed," said Monroe. "We're playing with a lot of confidence right now. We want to show everyone what Mount Olive basketball is about."
Mount Olive's win keeps both Conference Carolinas teams alive in the regional. No. 3 seed Anderson defeated No. 6 seed Fairmont State 62-50. Anderson advances to Saturday's first semifinal against No. 2 seed California (Pa.), a 70-54 winner over No. 7 seed Millersville.
The two semifinal winners have Sunday off, then face off in the championship game Monday at 7 p.m. The winner advances to the Elite Eight March 26-29 at Kearney, Neb.
"We didn't come in here just happy to be here," said Monroe. "We came here feeling like we have as good a chance as anyone to win this."