With one-tenth of a second remaining, Toree Mason’s drive to the basket resulted in two free throws and a chance for TWU to pull off a thrilling comeback.
Mason’s first free throw went through and caught nothing but nylon. With the win on her fingertips, Mason’s second free throw clanged off the left iron to send the game into overtime, where Eastern New Mexico outscored TWU 16-6 to take a 80-70 victory at Kitty Magee Arena on Saturday.
Trailing 64-59 with 33 seconds remaining in regulation, the Pioneers were staring defeat in the face.
After Rebekah Cluley’s free throws trimmed the deficit to three points, TWU’s full-court press delivered a clutch turnover that led to Ria Pateraki’s layup with seven seconds left. Hannah Altheide’s missed free throw for the Zias allowed Cluley to get the ball to Mason for the last-second play.
“Toree put us into overtime, and had we gotten that free throw we would have won it, but at least she got us into overtime,” TWU coach Beth Jillson said. “We put ourselves in position, and I thought that was key because we haven’t done that a lot this year where we’ve been down and came back.”
Saturday’s loss was the Pioneers’ second straight home heartbreaker after they fell 60-57 to West Texas A&M on Wednesday, but Jillson said the Pioneers (6-16, 4-12 Lone Star) are optimistic despite seeing their chances of making the conference tournament take a hit with the loss to the Zias (6-18, 5-11).
“If you compare the last two minutes of the West Texas game and this game, even though it was totally different circumstances, we gave ourselves a chance to win,” Jillson said. “They executed and they did a good job against the press, getting steals and forcing turnovers.”
Tara Johnson provided the Zias’ offensive spark with 19 points, including 13 in the second half and overtime. Jaylyn Cooper contributed down the stretch with eight of her 12 points coming after halftime. Neisha Peterson had 11 points while Jasmine Johnson added 10.
Pateraki’s free throws made it 67-66 TWU with 3:13 remaining in overtime to give the Pioneers their first lead since 40-38, but TWU couldn’t come up with needed stops.
“The tough thing was our defense,” Jillson said. “We gave up 80 points, and defensively we kept them to 40 points last game. I thought we had a lot of missed defensive assignments.”
Pateraki kept the Pioneers in the game with 17 second-half points on her way to 22 overall after a 21-point game against West Texas A&M. Cluley had 15 second-half points for a total of 17, and Barbara-Scott Kolb led the Pioneers’ first-half offense with eight of her 13 total points.
“Ria put together two really good games, and our focus has really been on getting her the ball inside,” Jillson said. “She stepped up again tonight. I thought B-Scott really stepped up and made some good shots and was looking more confident. She was looking for her shot, and she made some good decisions with the ball.”
Late in the game, the Zias’ Jasmine Johnson hit consecutive buckets for a 62-57 lead that forced TWU into a timeout. Pateraki scored on a spin move to set up the frantic final minute of regulation.
The Pioneers focused on shooting 3-pointers, going 4-for-11 from long distance in the first half.
TWU and Eastern New Mexico both shot 9-for-24 from the floor in the first half, and the Zias countered the Pioneers’ 3-point shooting with free throws and five second-chance points.
Pateraki’s conventional three-point play sparked the Pioneers to a 15-8 lead. TWU had crisp ball movement and early post looks that led to passes to Kolb for two 3-pointers.
Eastern New Mexico used a 7-0 run to take its first lead since 2-0 at 21-20.
“It doesn’t seem like we can extend the lead,” Jillson said. “We would be really good offensively, we would get up and then we would take a quick shot. It’s almost like everybody wants their opportunity to shoot the ball, and we’ve got to stick with the plan and run the offense.”
Pateraki’s second three-point play gave the Pioneers a 38-34 lead to start the second half, but the Zias responded with a 10-2 spurt to take a 44-40 lead. Kolb utilized her efficient shooting touch and Cluley exploited a size mismatch inside to keep the Pioneers in the back-and-fourth half.
The Pioneers lost their 10th straight home game and have four games to climb back into the final tournament berth. TWU must visit the LSC’s top two teams in Abilene Christian and Midwestern State and will play host to last-place Cameron and sixth-place Angelo State.
“We have to learn how to win games,” Jillson said. “When we went into overtime, you have to win games defensively and they scored 16 points. We need to get it done on both ends of the floor. Tonight, we could have won the game.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is email@example.com.