Charlotte, NC – In a battle between two of the top teams in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region, it was the Virginia Union Lady Panthers (26-2) who were able to claim the 89-58 win over the Chowan Hawks (19-9) and advanced to the semifinal round of the tournament. After a close first half of play, the Panthers broke the game open with a strong second half effort that included a dominating third quarter effort.
"I'm very proud of our young ladies and the way they fought from beginning to end," Virginia Union head coach AnnMarie Gilbert said after the win. "This is Lady Panther basketball team that I'd like to see more of over the next few games."
The game saw some great play from both teams as both the Lady Panthers and the Hawks both turned in great efforts. The Lady Panthers finished the game shooting a scorching hot 45.8% (33-of-72) from the floor while the Hawks struggled shooting 32.0% (24-of-75). Freshman guard Shameka McNeill and senior forward Alexis Johnson led the way for the Lady Panthers with 19 points each while senior forward Dhyamond Crenshaw and junior forward Danielle Weldon both scored 12 points in the game. Weldon also led the team's rebounding effort with seven rebounds in the game.
The game opened with a strong start from the Panthers, but the Hawks showed a lot of mettle to make the first quarter a thrilling one. The Panthers opened the game with a 6-1 run, but the Hawks answered in a hurry with an eight-point run that included a pair of McNeill three-pointers. The last one came with 00:38 left in the quarter and gave the Lady Panthers a 22-12 lead before a Williams lay-up cut the Hawks' deficit down to eight points, 22-14 at the end of the quarter.
The second quarter saw a much harder fought effort from the Hawks as they battled their way back into the game. After falling into the double-digit deficit, the Hawks fought back when a three-pointer from junior forward Jada Lee pulled the Hawks to within five points, 24-19 with 7:49 left in the second quarter. Once again, the Lady Panthers went on to pull away from the Hawks with a 9-2 run that was capped by a Johnson lay-up with 4:05 left in the quarter and gave the Lady Panthers a 33-21 lead. In the final minutes, the Lady Panthers went ahead by as many as 13 points, 37-24, following a lay-up from junior forward Rachel Pecota with 1:22 left in the second quarter. A Lee three-pointer answered the run, but in the end, the Lady Panthers took the 38-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.
It was in the third quarter that the Lady Panthers really took over the game. The team outscored the Lady Hawks 31-19. The quarter included a 15-4 run to open the quarter and left the Lady Panthers on top, 53-33, after a pair of McNeill free throws with 6:04 left in the quarter. The final minutes of the quarter were especially impressive for the Lady Panthers as the team held the Hawks without a score for the final two minutes of the quarter and took a 69-39 lead heading into the fourth.
"We know that this is the CIAA tournament and we knew that Chowan was going to fight us tooth and nail for at least a half. The third quarter is when you see teams start to either run out of gas or flip the switch and push the pedal to the metal and that was our goal," Gilbert added. "We knew we had a little more depth than Chowan and we wanted to push hard and heavy on every possession."
Though the game appeared out of reach for the Hawks, the team continued to battle as they outscored the Lady Panthers 20-19 in the fourth quarter. They were able to work their deficit down to as few as 26 points, 74-47, after a Lee free throw with 5:03 left to play. From there, the fatigue set in for the Hawks and the Lady Panthers continued to pour it one as a Johnson lay-up with 1:46 left to play gave VUU an 86-50 lead, their largest lead of the game. The remainder of the game turned out to pretty much ceremonial with the Hawks whittling their deficit down to 31 points and ending the day with the 89-58 loss.
With the win, the Lady Panthers improve to 26-2 for the season and will advance to the semifinal round of the 2018 CIAA Women's Basketball Championship Tournament. It will be the Lady Panthers' third straight trip to the semifinal round of the tournament as they await the winner of the Lincoln (Pa.)/Joohnson C. Smith game tomorrow. With the loss, the Hawks' season likely ends with the team posting a 19-9 overall record.