March 6, 2008

Patriots defeat Lady Saints late, 84-75

AIKEN, S.C. - Top-seed Francis Marion pulled away late in the game to hold off a determined North Georgia 84-75 and advance to the semifinal round of the 2008 Marvin Vanover Peach Belt Conference Women's Basketball Tournament. Thursday's win pits FMU (21-7) against the winner of the USC Aiken vs. Lander game played later Thursday night. North Georgia finishes with a 17-12 record.

Depth played a major factor in the game as the Francis Marion bench outscored North Georgia's reserves 56-11 in the contest, including 29-5 in the second half. NGC played just eight players in the game with the trio of Syretha Marble, Kourtney Singleton and Meagan Huffman carrying most of the load offensively. Those three players combined for 64 of the Saints' 75 points in the game, led by Marble's 26 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out late in the contest. Singleton added 23 points and 11 boards, while Huffman chipped in 15 points.

The first half was tight throughout, with a total of five ties and 11 lead changes in the frame. NGC held the lead for much of the first 15 minutes of play, but never by more than four points at any one time. Trailing 25-21 with 5:28 left in the period, the Patriots scored seven unanswered points to take a 28-25 lead with 3:40 left on a jumper by Shannon Singleton-Bates. The two teams would go through six of the 11 lead changes in the final three minutes of the half, the last coming when Singleton-Bates canned another jumper with 54 seconds left to give her squad a 36-35 lead. Huffman would get two opportunities to give the Saints the lead before the half, but neither jumper would fall and FMU carried the one-point advantage into the break.

FMU out-scored NGC 8-2 in the first 2:33 of the second half and took the biggest lead by either squad to that point, going up 44-37 on a Creshenda Singletary offensive rebound and put-back of her own miss with 17:27 to play. The Saints answered that run with a 10-2 surge of their own, taking a 47-46 lead with 14:49 left on a pair of Singleton free-throws. From that point, there would be three lead changes over the next three and a half minutes, the last coming when Yasmean Dixon hit a pair of free-throws with 11:13 left to put the Patriots up 53-52. FMU would not trail again in the contest, leading by as many as eight points before one final Saints run got them within three with 3:16 left. From there, FMU used the free-throw line to score the majority of its points and stretch the lead to double digits in the final minute. Singleton's layup with 12 seconds left cut the lead to nine and was the final basket of the game.

Dixon came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points to lead Francis Marion. She went 7-15 from the field and 6-6 at the charity stripe, and also tied for the team lead with six rebounds. Brittany Young scored 14 points on 4-5 shooting, including a triple, and 5-6 shooting at the line. Ebony Allen scored 12 off the bench, while Jennifer Dyer added 10. FMU shot just under 44 percent in the second half and took advantage of 27 Saint turnovers.

Quotes

North Georgia Head Coach Buffie Burson:
"I can't say enough nice things about our team and you can't question the heart and the hustle that we saw out there tonight and in the tournament."

This team has been out of tournament play for two years because we've been on a provisional basis with the NCAA. Just coming in here and getting our our first tournament win and getting our first national ranking and staying regionally ranked all year -- picking up 17 wins with little experience and a fairly young team, I couldn't be more proud of the ladies."

"That's Francis Marion's style and everybody knows it going into the game that they're going to keep bringing the pressure even more. They don't stop for 40 minutes. They changed and ran a three-quarter zone press and trapped us in some different areas.

I thought we had too many turnovers and they had a lot to do with that. They're a very athletic team, very quick and I give them a lot of credit for their defensive pressure."