The Wheeling Jesuit women’s basketball team are the 2016 Mountain East Conference Tournament Champions!
A year after falling to West Liberty in the semifinals, WJU defeated the top-seeded rival Hilltoppers, 70-66, to claim the programs first MEC title.
The Cardinals have solidified their spot in the Atlantic Regional tournament, and will find out who their next opponent will be tonight, Sunday March 6 at 10 p.m. during the NCAA selection show.
As the time was running off the clock, sophomore Mariah Callen thought “We did it, and it was all worth it.”
“I thought we had a good scout and we went out and performed it,” WJU coach Debbie Buff stated. “The girls waited a year to get back to this game (vs West Liberty).
We thought we were the new kids on the block, and we persevered with a great staff around myself. I am just ecstatic for them.”
Jaana Motton and Mariah Callen earned MEC All-Tournament team honors, while teammate Jaila Bryant was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Kylie Frizell joined her three teammates in double figure scoring.
“When I short armed the shot late in the game, I knew if I got the rebound I could make the free throws and end it right there,” Bryant stressed. “I tried to drive early as the coaches wanted me to keep attacking.”
“She (Simpson) is my favorite matchup with how she plays, and it was goal to get her out of her comfort zone as she is the MEC player of the year,” Motton expressed.
The Cardinals led for the majority of the game as they forced 17 first half Hilltopper turnovers. Four Cardinals finished in double figures in the victory.
The Hilltoppers jumped out to a brief lead, 4-0, off a pair of baskets by Kailee Howe. Jaana Motton knocked in the first WJU basket, before West Liberty took a 6-2 lead.
Motton hit a jumper in the paint, and Chenelle Moore made a shot from the elbow to tie the game at six. Mariah Callen banked in a layup and converted the three-point play, and the game saw its second tie, 9-9.
The Cardinals closed the quarter on a 5-2 run, and took a 14-11 advantage into the second period. Chelsea Richardson hit a deep two-point jump shot, and Callen sent home a trey with 48 seconds left in the first.
WJU stretched its lead by way of extending its run into the second period. The Cardinals scored the first four points, a Richardson jumper and a pair of free throws by Taylor Lubinsky, and the lead was seven points, 18-11.
The Hilltoppers scored the next seven points to knot the score at 18 each.
As has been the case many times this season, WJU had an answer for its opponents run. The Cardinals took a 23-18 upper hand after Jaila Bryant nailed a three pointer and Kylie Frizell made a baseline jumper.
Motton regained the five-point margin with 4:04 remaining before WJU increased its lead to seven. Bryant strung together four straight points followed by a pair of free throws by Mariah Callen, and WJU led by nine, 31-22.
Motton scored the last bucket of the half, and the score at the break was 33-24 in favor of the Cardinals.
Callen hit another pair of free throws with 7:54 remaining to hold WJU’s nine-point lead. She added two more at the end of the third, and WJU led by four points heading into the final period.
The Cardinals hit for their biggest run of the game, 10-2, to begin the fourth quarter. A pair of Frizell free throws stretched the lead to 10, while Bryant converted a layup to stretch the Cardinals lead to 12, 56-44.
Bryant hit a contested jump shot with 3:14 on the clock and WJU led by 11 points.
The Cardinals struck for five consecutive points from the line down the stretch. Frizell gave WJU a 63-54 lead with 1:21 remaining.
Motton went to the line with 35 seconds on the clock. She missed both attempts, but Richardson fought for the offensive rebound, and was fouled. She knocked in one of two attempts, and WJU led 64-59.
The Hilltoppers did not go down without a fight, as the Cardinals lead was shrunk to two points at two different times in the last 16 seconds.
Bryant hit four crucial free throws in the last five seconds, and WJU won the title, 70-66.
Bryant led WJU with 21 points, four rebounds, and three assists. Callen scored 16 points and swiped five steals, while Motton finished with 14 points and nine rebounds. Frizell went 8-8 from the line for her 10 points.
Richardson added five points and nine rebounds, while Lubinsky and Moore each scored two points.