University of New England Edges Catholic 54-50 in NCAA Opener

Photo by Scott Giglio
Photo by Scott Giglio

Madison, N.J. - The Catholic University of America women's basketball team saw the end of their season on Friday evening, as they fell 54-50 to the University of New England Nor'easters in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Championship played at the Ferguson Recreation Center on the Fairleigh Dickinson University – Florham campus.

"I'm very proud of how hard these young women competed," said head coach Matt Donohue. "This game could have gone either way and unfortunately for us, UNE made a few more plays than we did and they were able to come out on top."

First-Team All-Landmark standout Michelle DeSantis hit a three-point shot off a pass from Kristen Walheim at 19:04 for the first points of the game. With made layups from Second-Team All-Landmark selection and team captain, Josephine Migash, team captain Walheim, and a jumper from Bridget Power, the Cards took an early 9-6 lead over the Nor'easters before the first media timeout.

The Lady Cards maintained the lead over the next 10 minutes but the Big Blue stayed within reach. UNE's Alanna Vose sank two free throw from the charity strip at 8:43 to tie up the game at 17. The Nor'easters jumped ahead 32 seconds later with a three-point bucket from Kelly Coleman.

With 2:58 to play in the first half the CUA trailed UNE 25-21. Neither team could convert another point until the final second of the half as Cardinal team captain, Jayni Webster, grabbed an offensive board and banked a turnaround jumper to close the gap and end the first half 25-23.

"We felt pretty good about where we were at the half," Donohue said. "When Jayni scored right before the half it was a one possession game and we felt pretty good about things, the energy was definitely high."

Webster carried her buzzer-beating momentum into the second half with a quick layup at 19:44 to tie the game at 25. The Big Blue answered with a layup of their own to regain the lead but with a Walheim three-pointer the Lady Cards gained the advantage. Payton Smith came off the bench to hit a three of her own and Melissa Errico sank a free throw to stretch the Cardinal's lead to five.

The Nor'easters looked to close the gap making two jumpers by the 14:55 minute mark to make the score 32-31 in favor of the Lady Cards. The teams battled for possession and went scoreless over the next five minutes before Walheim put one in off the backboard to make it 34-31.

After CUA sustained the lead through the 9:59 mark UNE went on an 8-0 run over five minutes to gain the energy that would guide them to the victory. When the final buzzer sounded in the first round game of the NCAA DIII tournament the Nor'easters sat on top of the Lady Cards 54-50.

The Cardinals shot 25.4% from the field and pulled down 52 rebounds. Migash led the Cardinal scorers with 12 points while DeSantis had 4 assists and Errico grabbed 11 boards.

"When you're competing in the postseason you never really have that opportunity to think about the possible finality of everything.  You're always focused on the moment and what you need to do to continue playing, so by the time we got into the locker room it sort of began to hit us that our journey had come to an end," expressed Donohue. "This whole year has been quite a journey for these young women.  As a team, we have been through a lot during the course of this past year. Life has been about so much more than basketball for these young women, and that's essentially what we talked about in the locker room when all was said and done.  We're a family and we've grown a lot. We have a lot to be proud of."

The loss concludes the Cardinals 2014-15 campaign with an overall record of 19-9, and an 11-5 record in the Landmark Conference along with the conference championship title. UNE advances in the NCAA tournament with a record of 24-5 (16-2 Central Coast Conference).

"This has been one of my most rewarding seasons as a head coach. I was surrounded by a wonderful group of young women and an incredible group of assistant coaches," said Donohue "This team battled and continually evolved as the year went on. They're a great testament to what it means to be a team. That's why they're champions and that's why they'll get to hang up another banner to commemorate that fact."