#7 Concord def. #10 Notre Dame, 78-67
WHEELING, W.Va. – The third time wasn’t as easy for Concord’s women’s basketball team against feisty Notre Dame College but it was still a charm here Wednesday afternoon in the opening round of the annual Mountain East Conference Tournament at WesBanco Arena.
The seventh-seeded Mountain Lions, who had raced to big early leads and rolled to double-digit wins twice during the regular season over the 10th-seeded Falcons, had to overcome an eight-point, third-quarter deficit to eliminate Notre Dame, 78-67.
The victory improved Concord to 13-16 on the year and sets up a meeting with second-seeded West Virginia State (22-5) in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday at noon. Concord knocked off West Virginia State 82-71 in the next-to-last game of the regular season on Feb. 22.
Notre Dame finished its season at 7-22.
“I’ve got to give it to our girls because they battled the entire game,” first-year Concord head coach Tesla Southcott said. “It was a very physical game. Notre Dame took us a little bit out of our element in the first half. We weren’t using our strengths. We weren’t playing inside out. We weren’t throwing the ball ahead. We’re normally a team that prides itself on defense and we were, to be quite honest, a little off.
“I think some of that was a few nerves and being anxious and playing in this arena for the first time this year. We’ve got a lot of kids in new roles for us, but in the second half, I think you saw more glimpses of the real Concord. You saw the fight and determination.”
After an even first quarter, Notre Dame’s Lizzie Imrie and Noel Weathers helped the Falcons take a 32-29 lead at the half. In the first 2:39 of the third quarter, the Falcons’ three-point advantage had ballooned to a game-high eight-point lead at 39-31.
“I think our girls came out and played hard for the most part and definitely showed some growth,” NDC coach Imani Gordon said.
“Towards the end, though, we couldn’t execute when we needed to. We kinda crumbled and fell apart. We’ll take it, learn from it and come back stronger next year.”
“I was really proud of the effort we showed today,” said Imrie, who led all scorers with 22 points and nine rebounds. “Being the 10-seed is never the standard at Notre Dame, but we gave it our all today.
“We did have some mental lapses on both the offensive and defensive ends. We know that basketball is a game of runs and we tried to contain those runs as best as we could, but it was unfortunate that we let it slip away from us. We all wanted this game bad because we’ve been through a lot this season.”
Trailing by eight early in the third quarter Concord’s Southcott had seen enough. She called timeout, challenged her team and employed a press defense which turned the Falcons over a few times and paved the way for a quick Mountain Lion comeback.
“In that timeout I challenged them,” Southcott said. “I said ‘What are you made of? Right now you’re going down. If you don’t step on the gas and show everyone what you’re made of then you’re going to lose this ball game. Do you want your season to end today?’ I believe that was the statement I made.
“Teams that respond to that and honestly want that are the teams who can turn it around in the second half. Our girls did that.”
Led by Nakaila Gray and Abbie Smith, Concord wiped out its eight-point deficit in just over 60 seconds of game time and knotted the score at 39. After that it was close until the Mountain Lions began pulling away in the game’s final five minutes.
“One thing this team is about is grit and determination,” Concord’s Jaisah Smith, who led the Mountain Lions with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists, said. “Coach T instills in us to never put our heads down. She tells us to keep fighting and that’s exactly what we did.”
Concord went 27-of-38 from the foul line in the game, including an 11-of-15 showing in the fourth quarter. The Mountain Lions also connected on seven of nine field goals in the final quarter. NDC, on the other hand, was just 5-of-18 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Joining Smith in double figures for Concord was Gray, who finished with 16 points, Abbie Smith, who added 12 and Maddie Ratcliff, who chipped in 11.
Besides Imrie, Notre Dame got double-digit scoring from Amil Ali-Shakir and Weathers, who both finished with 12 points and Cencere McDaniel, who contributed 11.
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