Would the scrappy underdog pull the upset, or would the perennial championship contender dig down deep and find a way to win? Yeah, I know it sounds like every cliche in the book, but it’s tournament time and the cliche’ often rules.
I’m at the Big South Conference women’s basketball tournament in High Point and the first quarterfinal game just ended a little while ago. No. 1-seeded Liberty (21-9) battled to a 51-44 victory over No. 8-seeded Coastal Carolina (10-19) after trailing the Chanticleers for much of the game.
I’m not writing a daily newspaper story for this one, but there would be many story lines to choose from if I were.
Liberty lost its leading scorer, guard Devon Brown (14 ppg average) about 13 minutes into the game in a scary-looking crash to the floor after she took an inadvertent shoulder to the head under the basket. She hadn’t scored to that point and she didn’t return.
“The old school thing to do would be to spit on it, rub some dirt in it and get back out there, but that’s not the way we do things any more,” Liberty coach Carey Green said. “We wanted to take the precautions that you should take.”
It made a tough game even tougher.
Led by senior guard Sydnei Moss, who scored 25 points and pulled down 6 rebounds, the Chanticleers led 26-24 at halftime and kept that advantage until about the final 3 minutes.
But the key basket of the game was launched from about six feet in front of me here on the cozy press row of High Point University’s Millis Center. With her team in front 44-42 with 1:17 left, freshman guard Emily Frazier nailed a three-pointer a couple seconds from the end of the shot clock. It rippled the net and the Chanticleers were pretty much done after that.
After the game. Frazier, a freshman whose 10 points in the game was more than twice her average, spread the credit around like a good point guard should.
“Thanks to the post players, I was open,” she said. “We have good scorers inside and the defense has to sag off sometimes to cover them. I saw that time was running out and I took advantage of the opportunity that was given.”
One of those post players, center Avery Warley, ended up with 12 points and 19 rebounds.
For Coastal Carolina, it was an opportunity missed.
“For 39 minutes we were right there,” said Chanticleers coach Alan LeForce, who’s a story in himself.
LeForce, who I figure must be about 75, has been in coaching for 50 years and, the Coastal media guide says, is the only person who has won more than 100 games coaching both Division I men’s and women’s teams. He coached the men’s team at the College of Charleston in the Seventies and was head coach at East Tennessee State in the early Nineties, where his teams went to two NCAAA tournaments.
He’s been at Coastal for 14 seasons, and I had a nice visit with him earlier this season when he brought his team to Winthrop. He and I have some acquaintances in common and I had covered some of his games back in the late Seventies for The Sun News back when both Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston were in the NAIA.)
Anyway, the killer shot by Frazier, who hit Liberty’s only two three-point attempts, was, ironically, what the Chanticleers had been trying to force Liberty to do all game.
“I thought we did a good job of making them shoot from outside,” he said. “Usually they don’t beat you with their first shot, but the second and the third. But that one was the nail in the coffin.”
So Coastal goes home and Liberty moves along.
“It’s March Madness, what did you expect?” Green said. “We won a hard-fought battle against a well-coached team.”