Clarksville, TN – The night started with the Austin Peay State University (APSU) women’s basketball team honoring a trio of seniors in the Dunn Center on Senior Night; the night ended with that same trio of seniors punching their fourth-straight ticket to the Ohio Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Championship, as the Governors outlasted Morehead State, 70-65, Thursday.
Before tonight’s contest, Austin Peay State University honored its three seniors – Nieja Crawford, Arielle Gonzalez-Varner, and Gabby Gregory. Crawford and Gonzalez-Varner are both four-year seniors, who spent their entire collegiate career in Clarksville; while Gregory spent her final three seasons as a Governor after transferring in following her freshman season.
Despite it being Senior Night in the Dunn Center, the Governors were led by a freshman, as Ella Sawyer posted a career-high 21 points in the home-finale to lead all scorers. Sawyer did her damage when it mattered most, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter, including the final nine points of the game for the Govs.
The Governors entered the final week of the season knowing that they need just one win in the final two games to claim their spot in the postseason. But Morehead State was playing for the same reason, as the Eagles sat just a game behind Austin Peay State University in the OVC standings. It was a physical first quarter, with both teams struggling to score, but a pair of free throws with eight seconds left were the difference, and Morehead State held a 17-15 lead after ten minutes.
It was in the second quarter that the Governors offense erupted for its first of two 22-point quarters in the contest. Just 12 seconds into the quarter, a pair of Brandi Ferby free throws tied the game, as the junior guard scored two of her game-high ten first-half points.
With the Governors leading by one with 6:39 left before halftime, Gonzalez-Varner went on a 7-0 run all by herself. First the senior from Cincinnati converted the old-fashioned there-point play for her first points of the contest. Then Gonzalez-Varner got the hoop and drew the harm once again, but failed to convert the free throw; no worries, she drove hard to the rim for another two points on the next possession to give the Govs an eight-point advantage – their biggest of the day so far.
After the run by Gonzalez-Varner, another Govs senior got in on the action, as Crawford pulled down an offensive rebound after a missed three-point attempt and hit the put back shot for two of her ten points.
With less than a minute left in the first half, a Tahanee Bennell triple gave the Governors their first double-digit lead of the game, but it was short lived as Morehead State hit a pair of free throws on the next possession. However, Brandi Ferby made sure the Governors held a ten-point advantage at the break, slicing through the defense for a layup with eight seconds left on the clock to send the Govs to the break.
The Kirby three was the 243 three-pointer made by the Governors this season and broke the single-season team three-point record which was previously held by the 2018-19 squad.
But the Kirby triple was the final bucket of the frame for the Governors, as Morehead State went on a 10-0 run to close the third quarter and tie the game at 48.
On the opening possession of the fourth quarter, Morehead State struck first to take their first lead since the 8:29 mark in the second quarter. But a layup and a three-pointer from Sawyer erased the Eagles lead, as the freshman from Australia went on her first 5-0 run of the fourth quarter.
With 2:57 left in the contest, three-pointers on back-to-back possessions from Ariel Kirkwood and Jazzymn Elston erased a five-point Govs lead and put Morehead State back in front by one. But the Governors didn’t trail for long, as Crawford capped off her scoring effort, connecting on a pair of free throws to give her 10 points on her senior night.
Finally, Sawyer began to take over, as her and Elston traded buckets on four-straight possessions to square the game at 65 with 53 seconds left to play. But then the freshman Aussie became too much for Morehead State to handle, as Sawyer closed the game on her second 5-0 run of the quarter to help the Governors claim a 70-65, postseason-clinching victory.
Points in the paint. Morehead State entered the contest as one of the best shot blocking teams in the country and they still blocked six shots in the contest. But the Governors were not afraid to drive into the teeth of the Morehead State defense, and they were rewarded, outscoring the Eagles 40-24 in the paint. The Govs are now 6-1 this season when they score more points in the paint than their opponent.
Austin Peay State University leveled the all-time series against Morehead State at 41-41.
By picking up a win, the APSU Govs will advance to their sixth-straight OVC Tournament; marking the second-longest streak of consecutive postseason appearance in program history – behind only a 10-year streak that lasted from 1994 to 2003.
David Midlick has led the Governors to the OVC Tournament in all five of his years at the helm of the program, giving him the second-longest streak of consecutive tournament appearances by a head coach in program history.
On a third quarter three-pointer by Shay-Lee Kirby, the Governors broke the single-season team three-point record with their 243 triple of the season. The 2018-19 squad previously held the record, and with 244 three-pointers already in the books, this year’s team will have at least two more games to extend their lead in the record books.
With a career-high 21 points, Ella Sawyer led the Govs in scoring for the fourth time this season and posted the first 20-point performance of her young Austin Peay State University career.
Nieja Crawford scored in double-figures (10 points) for the third time this season and the first time in OVC play.
Arielle Gonzalez-Varner pulled down six rebounds to lead the APSU Govs on the glass for the 16th time this season.
With 44 made three-pointers this season, Shay-Lee Kirby owns the third-best three-point shooting season by a freshman in program history.
Gabby Gregory made the second start of her season and career, and her first start in conference play.
The APSU Governors scored 40 points in the paint, marking just the fourth time this season that they have scored at least 40 points in the paint.
Austin Peay State University is now 6-1 when they outscore the opposition in the paint.
Quotably, APSU Coach David Midlick
On Senior Night
“Gabby, Ari, and Nieja have been good players, but they have been even better teammates. They are good students, I am proud of them. Their parents should be proud of them, they raised three good young ladies. I am excited for them, hopefully going forwards with what we can do with basketball left and whatever career path they choose. But, I am happy for them tonight to get a win on Senior Night.”
On the difference
“We went stone-cold in the third period. On two-straight shots they went zone, and we had one pass and shot it from deep. Those are good shooters, but it is a time and score thing, long story short, those second-chance points made a difference and kept us in it during the fourth quarter until we made some shots.”
Next Up For Austin Peay State University
The Austin Peay State University women’s basketball will travel to Murray State for a 5:00pm, Saturday, tip off in the regular-season finale knowing they have a spot in the postseason, but not knowing which spot. The Governors could be anywhere from the No. 6 to the No. 8 seed at the OVC Women’s Basketball Championship next week; depending on the outcome of the game against the Racers and the outcome of the Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech contest.