GREENVILLE, S.C. – Wingate held off a late Lenoir-Rhyne run on Saturday to win the 2014 Food Lion SAC Women's Basketball Championship, 77-73, and the automatic berth into next week's NCAA Division II Tournament.
Wingate closes the annual conference tournament with a 25-5 overall record and it returns to the NCAA Tournament after a one year hiatus. Lenoir-Rhyne, which will likely earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, falls to 23-6 for the year.
The duo of Tournament MVP Kalya Harris and Shelby Tricoli combined for 49 points, with Harris leading the way with 27. For the final two rounds of the league tournament, Harris scored 45 points, leading Wingate in its two victories. Teammate Janitsha Williams added 12 points and posted a rebound shy of a double-double with nine.
The Bears recorded four players in double figures as point guard Danielle Bongiorno scored a team-high 17 points while pulling down six rebounds. Substitute Nneka Awuruonye finished with the game's only double-double, tallying 14 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes. All-tournament selections Jenni Gust and SAC Player of the Year Jazmine Charles notched 13 points and 11 points, respectively.
After WU began the game with a quick 6-0 run, the top seed quickly jumped back into the contest, evening the score at 8-8 in the opening six minutes. As the teams continued to trade baskets, Lenoir-Rhyne took its first lead of the game when Bongiorno scored a pair of free throws, sending the Bears in front, 13-12.
With the score knotted at 20-20, Wingate began an 8-2 run capped off by a Tricoli 3-pointer with under four minutes remaining. The Bulldogs held on to their lead to close the half at 33-29, as Tricoli and Harris combined for 27 points to close the opening 20 minutes.
Lenoir-Rhyne cut into the lead and came within two on a Gust jumper to being the half, but the Wingate attack continued its pressure following the basket. At the 12:43 mark, Williams gave the Bulldogs their largest lead of the contest with a lay-in, making the score 53-41.
Following Wingate taking its third 12-point advantage with 5:55 left, the top seed began to inch their way back into game. Awuruonye brought the score within five at 74-69 with a free throw, giving Lenoir-Rhyne its smallest deficit since the 15:01 mark in the second period.
The Bears brought the championship game within two with 43 ticks left, but a late turnover by Charles after she corralled a missed shot proved costly as L-R was forced to foul, sending Tricoli to the line. Tricoli made the game a two possession contest when she made both free throws, eventually sending Wingate to the NCAA Tournament.
2014 Food Lion SAC Women's Basketball Championship All-Tournament Team
Kalya Harris, Wingate (MVP)
Janitsha Williams, Wingate
Jenni Gust, Lenoir-Rhyne
Jazmine Charles, Lenoir-Rhyne
Kaitlyn Cupples, Carson-Newman