GAFFNEY, SC – Regional Most Outstanding Player Briana Burgins registered her second straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds and seventh-seeded Francis Marion University used a 15-2 run to open the second half to capture a 72-65 victory over eighth-seeded Augusta University, Monday night (March 14) in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional women's basketball tournament.
The improbable run by the Patriots (24-8), who a week ago were just hoping to earn an at-large berth in the regional, advances FMU to it second-ever Elite Eight. Francis Marion advances to Sioux Falls, S.D., where the Patriots will face Alaska-Anchorage (a 72-57 winner of Monday night's West Region title game with UC San Diego) on March 22 at 7 p.m. (Eastern Time). The Final Four is slated for the following day March 23 with the national championship game set for April 4 at 3 p.m. in Indianapolis, Ind.
FMU previously advanced to the 1998 Elite Eight and eventually the Final Four in Pine Bluff, Ark.
The Patriots also completed a three-game sweep of the Jaguars this season, previously having won 86-69 in Augusta on Jan. 4 and 91-75 on Feb. 17 in Florence. This year's FMU squad, under the direction of first-year head coach Jeri Porter accomplished a nearly worst-to-first journey. Losers of 20 games in 2014-15 and picked to finished 13th out of 14 teams in the pre-season Peach Belt Conference coaches' poll, FMU placed third in the East Division standings and earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in five years.
In addition to Burgins, senior 5-11 forward Alaysia Watts posted her 12th double-double of the year with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Three other Patriots scored in double figures with senior guard Camille Dash having 11, sophomore forward Khayani Chandler 11, and junior guard Victoria Dye 10. Junior point guard TeTe Flowers chipped in six points, six rebounds, and five assists and was named to the All-Tournament Team along with Watts and Burgins.
Senior forward Kariel Hutt led Augusta (24-9) with 21 points and 12 rebounds, while guard Camille Gee scored 18 points. Hutt and junior guard Breonna O'Conner (8 points) were both named to the All-Tournament Team as well.
The large run to open the second half expanded a 36-31 halftime lead to 51-33 with 5:22 left in the third quarter. Flowers contributed six points and one assist to the outburst that saw Francis Marion make seven of its first nine field goal attempts to open the period.
Augusta responded with six straight points and by the end of the quarter had narrowed the margin to 54-43.
A jump shot by Hutt to open the final period further cut the margin under double figures at 54-45. Dye answered with a three-pointer and two minutes later a three-pointer by Dash extended the Francis Marion lead to 60-49 with 7:22 on the clock.
Two buckets by Hutt ignited an 11-2 Jaguar run that cut the lead to 62-60 with 3:39 remaining. Over the next two minutes, Augusta had two opportunities to tie the game, but missed shots. A jumper in the lane by Watts with 1:48 left extended the lead to 64-60. After a single Augusta free throw, Dash nailed a jumper, but Gee connected on a three-pointer to again draw Augusta to within two at 66-64 with 53 ticks left.
FMU sealed the win by making 6-of-8 free throws in the final minute.
A fast-paced opening quarter featured two ties and eight lead changes. Back-to-back three-pointers by Chandler helped FMU grab a 22-16 advantage, but Cynara Pitt and Hutt dropped in buckets to draw the Jaguars to within 22-20 at the end of the first period.
Two more baskets by Hutt completed an 8-0 spurt that put Augusta on top 24-22. A lay-in by Burgins gave Francis Marion the lead for good at 28-27 with 6:52 left before halftime. That hoop also started an 8-0 spurt by the Patriots – with Burgins accounting for six points – that put the Patriots on top 34-27.
Augusta scored the next four points, but a layup by FMU freshman Shaunice Fulmore allowed Francis Marion to leave the floor at halftime holding a 36-31 advantage.
Francis Marion connected on 41.8 percent of its field goal attempts, was 8-of-15 from behind the three-point arc, and shot 8-of-11 at the free throw line. Augusta shot 40.0 percent from the floor, was only 3-of-15 from long range, and hit 14-of-18 free throw attempts.
When asked about the 18-point lead dissipating to two, Porter said, "Yes, I think we tightened up when the ball stopped falling. They (Augusta) switched to their zone pretty quick, looking to try to stop our momentum. I thought we did a really good job to regain our composure after they made a little bit of a run to cut the lead down.
"I think beyond the missed shots it came down to the rebounding. I've been talking about rebounding this entire tournament, and looking at the box score, this is the first time that we've been out-rebounded here. I thought that when we tightened up, we also stopped rebounding and we weren't getting the same shots that we had been earlier in the game."
"I don't think that either team did a whole lot different tonight compared to our two meetings during the season. I think that both sides knew going in that this was going to be about the kids on the floor gutting it out and making the plays when they needed to. The only thing that surprised me is that I thought that we would see more zone from them than we did.
"I thought that they were pretty much going to use the zone for the entire second half of the game, so when they didn't come out in the zone to start the third quarter I think that gave us an opportunity to get comfortable on the court."
When asked to put this improbable run into perspective, Porter added, "You know basketball is a game of runs and we're on a run right now. When this team stepped into the tournament thinking that they had a chance to win it all, especially with the teams that we knew were going to be here and the experience we had against them, it got them pumped up.
"I think that with each win we gained a little more confidence, because the first two games were against teams that we hadn't beaten during the regular season and so to be able to step onto the court and get that first win against Lander, and then come out with a win against Columbus State, it was huge. Coming into the game tonight we knew that we were going to have to be on top of our game against Augusta. They had been playing very well coming into the game and had picked up a pair of huge wins themselves.
"We felt like our defense was going to have to carry us, even though it was the offense that seemed to lead the way during both of the regular season meetings. I think that we guarded them well enough tonight, and we were able to get some big stops when we needed it. It wasn't the best job of guarding that I've seen from this team this season, but the effort was there and their intensity only increased as the game went along."
3-14-16 7:00 p.m. at Gaffney, S.C. (Timken Center) FRANCIS MARION 72, AUGUSTA 65 AUGUSTA (24-9) Kariel Hutt 10-17 1-2 21; Camille Gee 6-14 3-4 18; Kayla Lovett 2-5 5-6 9; Breonna O'Conner 4-11 0-0 8; Cynara Pitt 1-6 5-6 7; Samantha Carlson 1-1 0-0 2; Lonna Turner 0-2 0-0 0; Joshlyn Belcher 0-4 0-0 0; Mallory Myers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-60 14-18 65. FRANCIS MARION (24-8) Alaysia Watts 5-19 2-4 14; Briana Burgins 5-8 4-4 14; Camille Dash 4-10 2-3 11; Khayani Chandler 4-9 0-0 11; Victoria Dye 4-6 0-0 10; Shaunice Fulmore 3-7 0-0 6; TeTe Flowers 3-8 0-0 6; Kristin Tines 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-67 8-11 72. Augusta....................... 20 11 12 22 - 65 Francis Marion................ 22 14 18 18 - 72 3-point goals--Augusta 3-15 (Camille Gee 3-6; Kayla Lovett 0-2; Breonna O'Conner 0-3; Joshlyn Belcher 0-4), Francis Marion 8-15 (Khayani Chandler 3-5; Alaysia Watts 2-4; Victoria Dye 2-4; Camille Dash 1-2). Fouled out--Augusta-None, Francis Marion-None. Rebounds--Augusta 41 (Kariel Hutt 12), Francis Marion 37 (Alaysia Watts 13). Assists--Augusta 12 (Kayla Lovett 7), Francis Marion 13 (TeTe Flowers 5). Total fouls--Augusta 18, Francis Marion 12. Technical fouls--None. A-247