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Austin Peay State University Women’s Basketball falls to Belmont in OT at OVC Tournament

APSU Women's BasketballEvansville, IN – The Austin Peay State University (APSU) women’s basketball was the No. 7 seed in the Ohio Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Championship, taking on the second-seeded, four-time defending champion Belmont Bruins , who happened to have already beaten the Governors twice this season – none of that mattered, because it is March.

Austin Peay State University Women's Basketball fights Belmont to the end in OT loss at the OVC Tournament Wednesday night. (APSU Sports Information)
Austin Peay State University Women’s Basketball fights Belmont to the end in OT loss at the OVC Tournament Wednesday night. (APSU Sports Information)

March means anything can happen – that’s why they call it madness – and with 12 lead changes, nine ties, and five minutes of overtime, this one lived up to the billing and became an instant classic.

The Governors fought hard, but in the end they came up just short; dropping an overtime-thriller to Belmont, 76-73,  in the quarterfinals of the OVC Tournament, Wednesday, in the Ford Center.

The  last time the Govs and Bruins met it was one of the slowest starts of the season for the team in red – falling behind 10-0 to start the game. That didn’t happen tonight, after Belmont hit a three-pointer on their first possession, the Govs bounced right back with a bucket, a defensive stop, and another bucket to take the lead.

The lead would change hands four more times before the Governors built a five-point advantage when Ella Sawyer found Arielle Gonzalez-Varner streaking down the court for a fast-break layup. Then it was Belmont’s turn, as Madison Treece went on a 4-0 run by herself to close the quarter and shrink the Governors lead to one.

After a scoreless first two minutes of the second quarter, Nieja Crawford hit a step back jumper to put the Governors on the board. On the ensuing possession, Jamiilyn Kinney hit a jumper that would spark a 9-0 Belmont run, turning a three-point deficit into a six-point lead.

Myah LeFlore halted the Bruins run with her second three-pointer of the day, before Gonzalez-Varner layup cut the deficit to one. Once again LeFlore had the answer for the Govs, scoring two of her season-high 14 points on the next trip down the floor to trim the Belmont lead to two.

Austin Peay State University and Belmont would trade buckets for the final two minutes of the half. When the Bruins scored to extend the lead back to four, Brianah Ferby buried her first three of the day to cut the deficit back to one. At the half the Governors were well within striking distance, trailing 33-32, with 20 minutes of basketball yet to be played.

Gonzalez-Varner erupted out of the halftime break, scoring two of her team high 20 points on the first two possessions to get the lead back for the Govs. Then, Gonzalez-Varner drew an offensive foul to get the ball back, before assisting on a Sawyer three-pointer that capped off a 7-0 run and gave the Govs their biggest lead of the game – a six-point advantage.

Like both teams had done all night, Belmont had an answer for the Governors run, scoring six-straight to tie the game at 39. Once again it was LeFlore who stopped the Belmont run, as the junior from Memphis hit another jumper to put the Govs back in front.

A back-and-forth battle for the final three minutes of the quarter saw the score tied with 14 seconds remaining, before a pair of Allison Luly free throws gave the Bruins a two-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

The beginning of the fourth quarter looked like it could be the end for the Governors when Ellie Harmeyer connected from three-point range to give Belmont a 7-point lead – their biggest of the game – with 7:21 left in the contest.

But the Govs weren’t done yet. Gonzalez-Varner followed a bucket from LeFlore with a steal and a pair of fast-break free throws to cut the deficit to three. Gonzalez-Varner and Harmeyer would trade points for the next two minutes, before Brandi Ferby scored her first two points of the day – a pair of free throws to put the Govs down one.

With less than two minutes to play, Gonzalez-Varner got the lead back for the Governors, backing down her defender and hitting a turnaround jumper in the post. A Brandi Ferby triple on the next possession put the Govs up four minutes with just 1:15 left to play.

On the next possession, Maddie Cook responded with a jumper for the Bruins to cut the lead to two. A Brandi Ferby three-point attempt with 38 seconds left could have put the game away for the Govs, but it drew iron, giving Belmont another chance to even the score.

With 13 seconds left, Harmeyer missed a jump shot, grabbed her own rebound, and hit a layup to tie things at 66. Each team would get one more look at the basketball, but neither shot was successful – overtime.  

Belmont score the first two points of overtime, and then a Gonzalez-Varner layup sparked a 7-0 Austin Peay run that was capped off by Crawford triple to put the Govs up five with 2:59 left to play. But that was the last time the Governors would score in the contest, as Harmeyer caught fire for the Bruins, scoring seven-straight points to give Belmont a 75-73 lead.

With 16 seconds left, Maura Muensterman missed a free throw for the Bruins, giving the Governors one last shot. But after a timeout, Crawford and Tahanee Bennell misfired on a pair of would-be game-tying triples, and the Govs season came to an end against Belmont in the OVC Women’s Basketball Championship.


The Difference

Free throws. Belmont scored 20 points at the free-throw line, Austin Peay State University scored just 10. Ellie Harmeyer leads the nation in free throws attempted and free throws made, and for the second time this season she outscored the Govs at the line by herself  — going 12-of-17 from the charity stripe.

APSU Notably

Austin Peay State University dropped their seventh-straight contest to Belmont, falling to 6-14 in the all-time series.

The APSU Govs dropped to 3-2 all-time in overtime contests at the OVC Women’s Basketball Championship.

Austin Peay State University attempted 72 field goals in the contest, it was the fourth time this season the Govs have taken 70-plus shots and the first time since they took on Mississippi Valley State, November 18th.

The Governors forced Belmont to turn the ball over 20 times for the second time this season – it was the Govs 17th game this season with 20 forced turnovers.

Arielle Gonzalez-Varner scored a team-high 20 points, it ws her fourth 20-point performance of the season and the seventh of her career in her final game at Austin Peay State University.

Myah LeFlore scored a season-high 14 points and was one point shy of her career high.

Ella Sawyer dished out five assists to lead the Governors in helpers for the ninth time in her freshman campaign.

D’Shara Booker matched her career high by grabbing a team-high nine rebounds for the APSU Govs.

In her final game as a Governor, Nieja Crawford posted her third-straight double-digit scoring performance.

Crawford matched her career high with four assists in the contest.

The Governors finished the season with a program record 267 made three-pointers, while attempting a program record 845 triples.

Quotably, APSU Coach David Midlick

Opening remarks
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team and I couldn’t be more proud of the three seniors – Ari [Gonzalez-Varner], Gabby [Gregory], and Nieja [Crawford] – and what they have meant to this program. Myah [LeFlore] really showed up today and played a great game under control, she drove it and really did some things we needed to compete against them. I tip my cap to Belmont; we were down six in the fourth, took a timeout and made a run to go up five. But championship teams make championship plays, and I told my team I don’t think we lost one today, Belmont won one today.”

On playing in the postseason
“We treated this like another game. We wanted to be on point. We took some things that were good and bad from our two meetings with them [Belmont] during the regular season, but we wanted to keep it normal as possible. We usually play a Thursday game, so we had a two day prep, Monday and Tuesday, to get ready for this Wednesday game.”

On the Govs hustle
“You have to against them. They are bigger than us, they are solid and not going to beat themselves with what they do. They are going to find the open person if you help off; they are just good, talented, and smart basketball players. But our ladies were right there with them, and I thought we made things difficult on them.”


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