INDEPENDENCE, Mo. – The No. 5-seed Lindsey Wilson Blue Raiders survived a closely contested game against the No. 4-seed Talladega Tornadoes, 69-67, in the first round of the NAIA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena.
“We knew coming in that this was going to be a battle,” said Lindsey Wilson head coach John Wethington. “They have a great team and Coach Herod does a terrific job. When Chanel (Roberts) got in foul trouble early in the game, it affected us on both ends of the court, but especially defensively. We were just not as active and Talladega did a good job of taking advantage of her absence. I'm really proud of how our bench responded during the game, especially Malerie (Martin) and Courtney (Sandlin). They each gave us some critical minutes and scored some big baskets for us.”
The Blue Raiders (27-6) raced out to a quick six-point lead, as Billie Hearn nailed a jumper to give Lindsey Wilson the 11-5 advantage 3:52 into the game. The lead stayed in the three-to-six point range until Talladega’s Tashieba Henry netted a shot to trim the advantage to two (18-16) with 1:03 left in the first quarter. The score stood at the end of the period.
Hearn’s layup with 5:44 left in the first half gave the Blue Raiders a first half-high 10-point advantage, 31-21. The Tornadoes cut the lead to, 31-28 a little more than a minute later, but trailed by five at the break, 37-32.
Talladega took its first lead of the game in the third quarter after a free throw by Shakeena Benton, put the Tornadoes on top 43-42 with 4:39 remaining. From that point to the end of the quarter, the two teams combined for four ties and three lead changes.
The final period was much like the third, as the two teams totaled three ties and six lead changes.
Lindsey Wilson held the biggest lead of the period at four (68-64) with .18 seconds remaining in the game. The Tornadoes, down two, had a shot at the buzzer that rimmed off and gave the Blue Raiders the two-point victory.
The Blue Raiders were guided by a 22-point, seven-rebound and five-assist performance by Kayla Styles. The five assists are a season-high. Styles also converted a season-high 7-of-8 attempts from the charity stripe.
Malerie Martin and Teanna Curry added 13 and 10 points respectively.
“I was really proud of our kids and their fight tonight,” added Wethington. “Even when Talladega took the lead, we didn't panic. They all deserve this win."
Lindsey Wilson, making its 11th tournament appearance, improves to 6-0 after a loss this season.
Talladega was paced in scoring by Tajanee Wells, who ended the night with 17 points. She also added three rebounds and one assist in the loss.
Lindsey Wilson advances to the second round and will take on either No. 1-seed Westmont (Calif.) or No. 8-seed Huston-Tillotson (Texas) on Friday at 8:00 p.m.