Simply an amazing game for the women's team at Olivet Nazarene on Thursday night. Jaimie Buckman made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds remaining to cap a furious rally down the stretch, lifting the Tigers past the University of St. Francis 76-72 in the semifinals of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. ONU (16-16) reeled off the final 11 points in the final 2:19 advance to the championship game for the sixth time in the past 11 years.
Here's how it went down:
First of all, the second-seeded Fighting Saints (17-13) decided to hold the ball to slow the pace, forcing the Tigers to cover the whole court while trapping. The strategy worked to perfection in the first half, which ended with St. Francis ahead 38-28. ONU was held to 29 shots in the opening 20 minutes, making nine of them, and the Saints turned the ball over only 12 times. Everything was going wrong for coach Doug Porter's team, so adjustments were made at the break.
No, Coach Porter didn't back off the pressure, he increased it. No, he didn't advise his team to play slower, he told them to play faster. And he didn't back down, even when St. Francis still led by 11 at 51-40 midway through the second half. The pace, the pressure and the sheer will of ONU finally started taking its toll, and the margin slowly began shrinking.
It was only three points after a 3 from Lisa Beyer with 9:10 remaining in the game, but the Tigers simply couldn't any closer. Finally, with the score 72-65 and 2:19 showing on the clock, the momentum changed for good.
First, Simone Coburn got inside for a layup to make it 72-67, and following a steal by Danielle Tolbert, Coburn scored again to cut the margin to three. Anna Sears missed two free throws on the other end and Danielle Pipal found Coburn one more time for another layup. That made it 72-71 with 33 seconds on the clock.
Jacqie Storm turned it over for St. Francis, her third of the final sequence, and ONU had a chance to take the lead. Pipal, the playmaker, passed the ball to Buckman near the top of the key, and her 3 found the bottom of the net for the Tigers' first lead since it was 3-2.
This time, the Saints got the ball across halfcourt, but Jen Andes missed a heavily contested shot from in close, and Buckman corralled the rebound. She quickly was fouled and made both free throws for the final margin.
Wow, what a game. As you can expect, ONU dominated the stat sheet in the second half, finishing 19-for-49 from the field and 7-for-20 on 3-pointers to make the comeback happen. St. Francis had 24 turnovers after halftime, as well, which led to many easy points. Essentially, "The System" took over, and Coach Porter showed his experience and savvy to let it happen.
Buckman led the way with 19 points and Pipal added 16 points, five assists and five steals for the Tigers, who will play at St. Xavier in the title game Saturday. The Cougars (28-1), who won the regular season championship and currently are ranked No. 2 in the NAIA poll, moved on by beating Robert Morris 78-55. ONU held its own against St. Xavier during the regular season, losing 85-82 at home and 113-97 on the road. Game time is 2 p.m. EST, and I wish there was some way to follow the action.
Oh, well. I'll have to rely on the box score after the game is over, and hope everything goes well for Coach Porter and the Tigers.