GREENWOOD, SC – Seniors Eboni Fields and Nicole Mealing scored 21 and 20 points respectively to lead third-seeded and 20th-ranked Francis Marion University to a 103-96 win over Newberry College, Friday afternoon in the opening game of the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Southeast Regional.
The Patriots, who built a 28-point lead early in the second half but had to withstand a furious Newberry rally, improve to 27-4 and advance to face the Clayton State University/Tusculum College winner in Saturday's first semifinal contest at 5 p.m. The regional is being played in the Finis Horne Arena on the campus of Lander University.
FMU placed five players in double figures. Fields connected on 8-of-15 shots, including 5-of-9 three-point attempts. Mealing was 8-of-16 from the field en route to equaling her season high.
Junior Shannon Singleton-Bates scored 17 points and passed former FMU guard Fenissa Rice to move into 19th place on the Patriot career scoring list with 1,194 points. Junior point guard Robin Colbert tallied 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocked shots, while senior guard Shana Franks added 11 points.
Senior 6-3 center Anita Bulcher led Newberry (21-9) with 24 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Helen McKinney scored 21 points as the five Newberry starters accounted for 94 of their team's 96 points.
Francis Marion got off to a fast start after Newberry's LeAnne Watson scored on a lay-up in the opening seconds. The Patriots scored the game's next 10 points for a 10-2 lead, with two baskets set up by Franks' steals. The Francis Marion advantage was extended to 36-17 with 8:47 left before halftime as the hot-shooting Patriots connected on 15 of their first 23 field goal attempts.
A three-point play by Watson pulled Newberry to within 14 points at 36-22 with 7:52 to go. Singleton-Bates responded with a fast-break bucket and Precious Tucker scored inside to push Francis Marion's lead to 40-22. A 5-0 spurt by FMU pushed the margin to 20 for the first time at 47-27 when Mealing hit a three-pointer at the three-minute mark. Mealing hit another three-pointer, the team's sixth of the half, to build the lead to 23 points, 52-29, with 1:49 left. Monica Mann's fast-break basket gave Francis Marion a 57-33 halftime lead.
Baskets by Fields and Singleton-Bates to open the second stanza pushed the FMU lead to 28 points at 61-33. Over the next 7:26, Newberry rallied with a 27-6 run to cut the 28-point deficit down to seven at 67-60.
Five straight points by the Patriots extended the lead back to double digits, but again Newberry would close to within seven at 74-67 following a jumper by Bulcher with 9:23 left.
A 23-foot three-pointer by Mealing just inside the five-minute mark gave Francis Marion a 90-79 lead. A three-pointer by Fields from the left corner made the margin 13 (97-84) with 2:43 remaining. Newberry responded with six unanswered points, pulling within 97-90 with 1:14 left when Amy Browne made two free throws. A fast-break jumper by Jessica Bearzatto further cut the Patriot lead to 100-94 with 32 ticks left.
After one free throw by Colbert, Bearzatto hit another basket with 14 seconds remaining to trim the lead to 101-96. Franks sealed the FMU victory with two charity tosses with :12 on the clock.
For the game, Francis Marion made 37 of 74 shots (50%) from the floor, including 9-of-20 three-point attempts, and 20 of 28 free throws (71.4%). Newberry shot 55 percent over the final 20 minutes to finish the game at 46.7 percent, while hitting 23 of 33 free throws. And after getting dominated on the boards in the first half, Newberry finished the game with an overall 45-44 edge on the boards.
"I was very pleased with our team's response once Newberry went on that big run," said third-year FMU head coach Heather Macy. "We showed great resolve, hit some huge shots, and we are very pleased to be playing another day.
"Newberry is a very good basketball team. We knew that they were going to make a run. They made a couple of big shots and we allowed our misses to get us down, and we didn't buckle down defensively like we needed to do."
"I just cannot say enough about the resolve of this group and the way they keep coming. At this stage, everyone has good basketball teams and you have to play a complete 40 minutes."
Mealing, playing her first season for the Patriots, added "We played as well as possible in the first half – very pleased at that. We must continue to play hard throughout the second half. We have to play like sharks."
Macy also praised the play of 6-0 junior center Danelle Downs who finished the game with six points and nine rebounds off the bench. "Danelle is an experienced player. She has been in this situation before. She knew we needed a strong rebounding presence from her and she responded with an awesome effort."