Responding to the challenge of possibly going home without a win, The Master’s College women’s basketball team put on their best shooting display of the young season and shocked No. 6 Bethel of Tennessee 80-70 on the final evening of the Jackson Rotary Classic in Jackson, Tennessee.
The victory salvaged one of the three games the Mustangs played in the South and evened their record at 3-3.
Knowing that poor shooting had been the culprit in losses the previous two evenings, the Mustangs made the most of their open looks, especially from behind the arc, to eventually pull away from the Wildcats.
But, it took awhile to do so as the clubs tussled back and forth through a very competitive first half which featured seven ties and no more than four points separating them until the final 90 seconds.
The Mustangs grabbed the first of those four-point advantages (14-10) with 13:08 left in the first half on a Lena Rivera basket. The Wildcats clawed back with four straight points to even the game but an Ella Joines’ trifecta at the 9:36 mark sent the Mustangs in front 19-16.
However, the Wildcats, showing why they’re one of the nation’s top teams, answered with a 6-0 spurt for a 22-19 edge, their largest of the opening half. A Lindsey Levanen bucket stopped the skein and when Rivera drilled a three-pointer with 5:30 left, the Mustangs were back in front, 24-22.
That lead lasted all of 30 seconds as a three-pointer by Jana Roney put the Wildcats back on top. But, on this evening, that didn’t seem to faze the Mustangs as Joines drained another three-ball for a 27-25 lead. It was the fifth and final trey of the half for the Mustangs.
The Wildcats knotted the game at 27 but then the Mustangs started to exert themselves, outscoring Bethel 8-1 over the final three minutes to take a 35-28 lead to the dressing room. Rivera was the catalyst in the surge, sandwiching six points around a Kristen Huff bucket.
Trying to put aside their week-long shooting slump, the Mustangs shot a modest 45% in the first half while holding the Wildcats to 43% accuracy.
But, the best was yet to come for the squad, although it wasn’t readily apparent as the Wildcats stormed out of the break, scoring the first nine points of the second period to go up 36-35 with 17:45 remaining.
Rocked back on their heels, the Mustangs responded with a Zoe Scott three-pointer and two Rivera free throws to take a 40-36 lead. The Mustangs wouldn’t relinquish the lead again for almost eight minutes. In between, they enjoyed a trio of five-point margins, all of them coming on shots from behind the arc. Scott drained one of those and freshman Whitney Best poured in the other two.
Best’s second three-ball gave the Mustangs a 49-44 lead at the 13:53 mark. But, the well went dry over the next four minutes and the Wildcats stepped up and outscored TMC 9-2 in that span to take a 53-51 lead. Joines retaliated with another trey to vault the Mustangs back in front but the Wildcats duplicated that on their next possession and eventually built a three-point margin (63-60) with 7:56 left.
But, this was a different night for the Mustangs, who were in the game at this point compared to the previous two evenings. Relishing that fact, they proceeded to tear off eight straight points to go ahead to stay. Best sparked the run with a three-pointer, Lauren Labat knocked down two free throws, and Scott poured in another three-pointer for a 68-63 lead.
Scott answered a Wildcat basket with another trifecta and that ignited a 9-2 burst, extending the Mustang lead to 77-67 with 2:46 remaining. Rivera added four points during the skein and Levanen finished things off with a basket.
The Wildcats wouldn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way and a Huff basket and a Best free throw iced the much-needed and deserved win.
Over the final 20 minutes, the Mustangs went 8-10 from behind the arc and finished the half shooting 56% (14-25). They wound up shooting 50% for the game, highlighted by a 13-24 (54.2%) performance from behind the arc.
As good as the three-point shooting was, what was even better was the five Mustangs who scored in double figures. Rivera led the way with 23 points and grabbed a game-high seven rebounds to go with three assists. Scott and Joines, who both hit four three-pointers, finished with a dozen points apiece while Best and Huff chipped in with 10 points each.
The Mustangs return to Southern California to prepare for their Thanksgiving Classic this coming weekend. On Friday, they’ll host Ecclesia of Arkansas and then on Saturday they’ll entertain another NAIA powerhouse, 11th-ranked Southern Nazarene from Oklahoma. Both games will tip off at 2:00pm in Bross Gym.