For the second straight year, a loss in the semifinals of the ODAC Tournament has left top-seeded Eastern Mennonite hoping that they built a good enough resume to get an at-large bid into the NCAA National Tournament. Hot-shooting Virginia Wesleyan knocked the Royals out of the conference tourney in Salem, 78-71, Saturday evening.
The decision snaps EMU's 11-game winning streak and leaves the women with a record of 22-4. The Royals finished 15-1 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for the third year in a row, but also built the best overall record during this three-year stretch. Each of the two previous years Eastern Mennonite earned an at-large bid to the national tourney.
The NCAA Selection Show will be webcast on NCAA.com this Monday at 2:30pm.
In Saturday's game with VWC, the fourth-seeded Marlins were hitting shots and led most of the first half. Back-to-back threes triggered an 8-0 run, putting Virginia Wesleyan's lead at 37-28.
But the Royals hit a 9-0 streak, including seven straight by Jess Rheinheimer (Manheim, Pa./Lancaster Mennonite), to lock things up at 37-37. The teams traded points in the final minute of the frame to leave the score tied at 39-39 at halftime.
Alisa Brown (Dumfries, Va./Forest Park) sliced to the hoop for a quick layup to start the second half, giving the women a 41-39 lead, but Virginia Wesleyan didn't fade. Despite not hitting as many three pointers and getting into foul trouble, the Marlins still led 50-47 at the 13:47 mark.
Shakeerah Sykes (Dumfries, Va./Forest Park) connected on a bucket with a foul, but she missed the bonus free throw. From that point, the Royals surprisingly struggled to hit their free throws which cost them. They made just three of their 12 attempts during the stretch and Virginia Wesleyan methodically built up a 61-52 cushion.
Marla zumFelde (Goshen, Ind./Bethany Christian) hit a much-needed three pointer, pausing VWC's momentum and cutting the deficit back to 61-55 with 6:53 to play. But the Marlins kept coming, getting a jumper followed by a triple to push their advantage to 66-55.
Even though there was time left to play, it felt like Virginia Wesleyan shut the door when Andrea Paphites banked in a three pointer as the shot clock expired, making it 71-57 with 2:50 to go.
The Royals scored the next seven points, however, cutting to within 71-64 after two Rheinheimer free throws with 1:23 to play. But as the women turned to fouling, Virginia Wesleyan kept hitting their free throws and Coach Kevin Griffin called things off after Rheinheimer's layup with 28 seconds left, providing the final 78-71 score.
Virginia Wesleyan had a slight shooting edge at 39% to 38%, but hit four more three pointers than the women. EMU shot just 10-20 from the free throw line in the second half, finishing at 22-32. The Marlins were 13-16. The Royals also had more turnovers, ten to seven.
Rheinheimer, the ODAC Player of the Year, led all scorers with 24 points and 14 rebounds. With her first bucket at the 18:03 mark in the first half, the junior also became EMU's 13th woman to score 1000 points in her career.
Sykes, a fellow All-ODAC First Team member, also had a double double, going for 16 points, 15 rebounds and three assists. Brown added seven points, four assists and three steals. Myneshia Walker (Freeman, Va./Brunswick) provided some good minutes off the bench and charted 10 points.
Nancy Kelly led four Marlins in double figures with 15 points. Paphites added 14 and seven rebounds. Symonne Newsome and Brittany Glasco each had 11 points and six rebounds.
Coach Kevin Griffin talks about the loss: