HICKORY, N.C. – In a matchup between the top two teams in the South Atlantic Conference standings, the Anderson women’s basketball team held off Lenoir-Rhyne, 48-46, Wednesday night at Shuford Gymnasium to claim sole possession of the top spot in the league standings.
Anderson (14-5, 8-1 SAC) built a 17-point first-half lead, then withstood a second-half rally by Lenoir-Rhyne ((12-5, 7-2 SAC) to avenge an earlier one-point setback to the Bears in early January.
The Trojans, who have not lost since suffering the loss to Lenoir-Rhyne, stretched their win streak to seven games and claimed their first win past the Bears in seven attempts, while taking over the top spot in the conference standings at the midway point of the league schedule. The Bears suffered just their second loss in the last nine games.
The Anderson defense stymied Lenoir-Rhyne through the opening half and forced two early turnovers by the Bears inside the first minute, but the Trojans were unable to capitalize, as AU misfired on its first four shots from the field. Neither team was able to score until Anderson senior guard Amanda Parris broke the ice by putting the Trojans on top with her first 3-pointer of the contest with 16:40 on the clock. The Trojans opened the contest by connecting on just three of its first 13 attempts from the field, while the Bears missed six of their first nine attempts.
A pair of first-half runs enabled the Trojans to open a double-digit advantage. Leading by one, the Trojans pushed out to an 18-7 advantage, courtesy of an 11-1 outburst over a five-minute span. Senior forward Breonda Shannon ignited the run by dropping in a layup with 12:56 left in the half and senior Tilde Ahlin added a jumper less than 30 seconds later to give AU an 11-6 lead.
Following a free throw by the Bears’ Jazmine Charles, Anderson freshman center Katie Davis dropped in a bucket and sophomore guard Lesley Woods added a 3-pointer. Guard Alissa Diaz capped the surge with a jumper midway through the frame, giving AU the 18-7 cushion.
The Bears’ Krystal Patton slowed the Trojans with Lenoir-Rhyne’s lone 3-pointer of the first half, but Anderson countered with nine unanswered points to gain a 27-10 lead – their largest of the game - with less than four minutes remaining in the half.
The Trojan defense held L-R to just the 3-pointer for more than eight minutes and forced Bears into 12 first-half turnovers and held a 31-15 halftime edge.
Anderson maintained the double-digit advantage through the first nine minutes of the final half, with Lenoir-Rhyne closing within 41-35 on a pair of free throws by Patton with 9:49 left in the contest. The two teams then suffered through a 3:20 scoring drought before Shannon connected on one of two free throws to give AU a 42-35 lead.
L-R’s Alexis Katt brought the Bears within 42-40 on a jumper at the 5:34 mark, with Ahlin snapping the 12-1 Lenoir-Rhyne run with a jumper. The Bears knotted the score for the first time of the night at 44 apiece on a free throw by Whitney Brinkley with just more than a minute left, but the Trojans refused to surrender the lead.
Diaz and sophomore Sierra Simpson each drained two from the line inside the final minute to push AU’s edge to 48-44 with 25 ticks remaining, while Nneka Awuruonye’s putback of her own miss pulled Lenoir-Rhyne within two with 13 seconds remaining.
Forced to foul, the Bears sent Parris to the line, where the senior was a perfect 3-for-3 on the season from the line inside the final two minutes. She was unable to connect on the attempts with 11 seconds left, but Lenoir-Rhyne’s Jordan Hiatt and Katt were unable to capitalize in the final moments.
Diaz led all scorers with 17 points and notched her second double-double of the season by recording a career-high 11 rebounds. The 5-10 guard also dished out a game-high four assists. Ahlin added 10 points, while Shannon also pulled down 11 rebounds.
Patton led the Bears with nine points, while Awuruonye recorded a game-high 12 rebounds and chipped in seven points.
The Trojans begin the second half of their South Atlantic Conference schedule by playing host to Mars Hill on Saturday, with tip-off versus the Lions in the two teams’ first meeting of the season slated for 2 p.m