The Eastern Michigan women’s basketball team advanced to the WNIT second round after defeating St. Mary’s University in the final seconds, 74-73, Thursday evening in Moraga, Calif.
The Eagles came into the game 10-5 on the road and EMU coach Tory Verdi's key to victory was staying focused despite being away from Ypsilanti.
“We have to be smart in the beginning. Also, we have to pressure the ball versus the Gaels and not take ourselves out of rhythm defensively,” Verdi said.
With under two minutes the game, EMU stayed within one as each team traded baskets before Cha Sweeney would hit a floater with 20 seconds left. St. Mary’s Devyn Galland scored a crucial bucket to take the lead. After an Eagles timeout, Chanise Baldwin would put back Sweeney’s missed free throw jumper to take the victory.
“I knew Cha was going to get the shot up and my first instinct was to go rebound and that’s what I did …. I got the rebound and went up strong,” Baldwin said.
Sweeney finished with a game-high 19 points and three others finished with double-figures including Baldwin and Janay Morton who added 16 points and Phillis Webb adding 11 points respectively. The Eagles scored 14 points off 19 St. Mary’s turnovers despite allowing 50 percent shooting for the Gaels.
“With our press I thought we were really good defensively until we got into foul trouble – which exposed us a little bit,” Verdi said.
St. Mary’s came into the matchup averaging 17 turnovers a contest and the Eagles would capitalize early forcing five in the opening quarter. The Gaels would let up as they stayed in the game – knocking triples late in the first quarter. Sweeney finished the quarter with eight points after a buzzer beater three to go ahead 21-20.
The threes continued to fall for both teams as they each went back and forth midway through the second quarter. EMU were able to take advantage of their pressure defense and take and eight-point lead before the media timeout. The Eagles went into the locker room with 38-33 advantage over St. Mary’s.
Foul trouble began to be the problem for the Eagles as Baldwin would pick up her fourth foul in the early in the third quarter and Sweeney picked her fourth. The Gaels used EMU’s foul trouble to cut their deficit within one under two minutes, but entered the final quarter trailing 57-54.
“I had to give my team energy from the bench – I was up on good plays clapping it up trying to help change the momentum of the game,” Baldwin said.
Morton scored her fifth triple of the game entering the final quarter. The Eagles led by as many as seven early in the fourth but would the Gaels cut it back to one – forcing Verdi to call a timeout. Baldwin entered the fourth quarter and scored immediately, but EMU allowed another triple as St. Mary’s tied the game at 65.
The Gaels took advantage of EMU’s foul trouble – scoring in the paint going up 69-65.
“Unbelievable game and I mean the whole forty minutes and in the third quarter we kind of got into our low point,” Verdi said. “A lot of fouls which stopped the whole momentum of the game especially with Baldwin and Sweeney both out hurt us offensively in the game”.