Pioneers Gunn down Patriots in NCAA regional semifinals

From Francis Marion University

GREENWOOD, SC  - Junior 4-11 point guard Jasmine Gunn scored 45 points and set a national tournament record by making 23 free throws to lead seventh-seeded Tusculum College  to a 103-96 victory over third-seeded and 20th-ranked Francis Marion University, Saturday night (March 13) in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Southeast Regional.

Tusculum (22-9) advances to face the Lander University/Carson-Newman College winner in Monday's regional final at 7 p.m.

Francis Marion ends its season with a 27-5 mark for the second consecutive year.  The win total equals the fifth highest in team history.  The Patriots were making their third straight national tournament appearance.

Senior forward Nicole Mealing led FMU with a career-high 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting.  She also registered eight rebounds and seven assists.  After playing her first three seasons at Augusta State University and her final year at FMU, the 5-10 North Augusta native finishes her career with 1,167 points.

Junior Shannon Singleton-Bates followed Mealing with 21 points, while seniors Eboni Fields and Precious Tucker scored 13 and 11 points respectively.

Gunn's point total was one shy of the Division II women's national tournament single-game record.  She was 11-of-15 from the floor and 23-of-29 at the foul line.  The old mark for free throws made in a game was 17 set by Lake Superior State's Darcy Fralick in 1998. Gunn also handed out a team-high six assists.  Her teammate, 6-8 junior center Catherine Hintz, scored 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and blocked five shots before fouling out.

Francis Marion took an early 19-12 lead less than eight minutes into the game as the Patriots hit seven of their first 15 shots, while Tusculum was 2-of-9.

Francis Marion's lead grew to nine at 24-15 following a basket by Tucker at the 10:54 mark.

Hintz scored back-to-back baskets in the paint to pull the Lady Pioneers within 29-25. The run would eventually extend to 12-0 giving the Lady Pioneers a 33-29 advantage. Tusculum would not trail again.

Before halftime, Francis Marion got to within one point on four occasions, but Tusculum would lead 49-44 at the break.

Each team scored on its first three possessions of the second half as the Pioneers maintained their five-point lead (55-50).

A three-pointer by Mealing pulled the Patriots within 60-56, but Tusculum responded with eight straight points to lead 68-56.  The margin would grow to 15 points at 91-76 following a Jasmine Parker layup with 4:39 left.

The Patriots put together a 16-7 spurt to cut the deficit to 98-92 after a free throw by Singleton-Bates with 35 ticks remaining.  Gunn drained two free throws and Singleton-Bates countered with a layup leaving the margin at six (100-94).  Parker hit two foul shots and Singleton-Bates again answered with an inside hoop to hold the lead at six (102-96), but with only 11 seconds left.

Tusculum connected on 15-of-24 second-half field goal attempts (62.5%) and finished the game at 55.4 percent.  As a team, the Lady Pioneers were 38-of-52 from the foul line.  Francis Marion shot 41 percent from the field, including 8-of-18 from beyond the three point arc, and the Patriots were 20-of-31 at the foul line.

In addition to Mealing, Fields, and Tucker, guard Shana Franks and forward Dawn Coleman also ended their FMU careers.

FMU head coach Heather Macy said, "This is an incredibly tough loss, especially for our five seniors.  Tusculum is a good basketball team and this was their night.  Congratulations to them. I am very proud of our girls, especially with their effort at the very end.  We were able to force some turnovers."

On forcing only 17 turnovers, she said, "With the fouls, it changes the game.  You don't have the opportunity to press.  It also changed our player rotation."

"Gunn is a great player, and you must give credit to someone who scores 45 points."