SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Seventh-seeded Milligan College erased a 17-point deficit to force overtime but lost 84-76 to No. 2 seed College of the Ozarks in the first round of the NAIA Women’s Basketball Division 2 National Championships.
“We went toe-to-toe with them, and I am proud of our team’s performance,” Milligan head coach Rich Aubrey said. “After practice yesterday, I told them to make today another day where we recover from adversity, but this isn’t exactly what I had planned. The kids did a great job responding to getting down, and they continued to play aggressive and attack the whole game. We were able to make plays and force overtime.”
Morgan Smith scored a game-high 40 points, seven points shy of the most points scored in a national championship tournament game, and Kayla Kepler collected 17 rebounds to lead the Lady Bobcats (30-4).
Senior Johneshia Good capped off her stellar college career with a team-high 17 points and four assists to lead the Lady Buffs (23-10). Tracy Hardiman recorded 14 points and eight rebounds. Jaimee Hill ended the game with 14 points, and Dorian Freeman finished with nine points, including a lay-up at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime.
Milligan took an early lead in a hotly-contested first half. The game was tied 20-20 after a pair of free throws by Chelsey Weddle, but the Lady Bobcats held them to just a pair of 3-point shots by Callie Cox to take a 36-26 lead at the half.
Tracy Hardiman hit a 3-pointer to start the second half for the Buffaloes, but the Lady Bobcats extended their lead to 44-29 just four minutes later. However, Milligan slowly erased the deficit and tied the game on Kayla Kelly’s jumper with 16 seconds left.
After Morgan Smith put the Lady Bobcats up by two with 4.4 seconds remaining, the Buffaloes sent the game into overtime when Good found Freeman for the game-tying shot.
“Tracy threw a great inbound pass to get Johneshia the ball in space,” Aubrey said. “We had a 2-on-1, and Johneshia made a great play by taking the play at the rim. Dorian made a great play. I knew once Johneshia turned the corner we were going to get a really good shot.”
In overtime, the Lady Bobcats scored the first four points. Hill answered for Milligan with a jumper, but the Buffaloes were unable to answer a late 6-1 Ozarks run.
“Johneshia played very well and she was aggressive for us the whole game,” Aubrey said. “Jamiee had a great game as well as Tracy and Dorian. Everybody stayed aggressive, and I think that was the biggest thing that allowed us to come back.”
As a team, the Buffs were 29-of-74 (39 percent) from the field and 10-of-26 (39 percent) from 3-point range in the final game for seniors Hill, Good and Freeman.
“Those three together are the most passionate graduating class about basketball I’ve ever had,” Aubrey said. “They absolutely love basketball, and it is contagious. It makes practice fun and productive, and all three had their best seasons during their senior year. That is just a tribute to them and their hard work as well as the way they came through for us on the floor. I can say plenty of good things about our seniors.”