St. Francis women fall in tournament opener

University of St. Francis’ first trip to the NAIA National Tournament in 14 years turned out to be a brief one as Asbury College (Ky.) stunned the NAIA II No. 6-ranked Saints 63-60 in first-round action Thursday morning at the Tyson Events Center.

Trailing by as many as 14 points in the first half, the Saints battled back to gain their first lead of the contest (56-55) with 5:51 to play, but could only hold that advantage for 23 seconds before Asbury (24-9) went back on top. The Saints then forced the second of two ties (58-all) with 4:53 remaining before Asbury went up for good 59-58 at the 4:46 mark.

From that point on, the Saints were able to manage only two points, pulling to within 61-60 with 2:08 left on a steal and basket by senior Alexis Brown (Shiloh, Ill./ Belleville East). Five opportunities to take the lead ensued in the final 78 seconds, but the Saints misfired on three field goal attempts before turning the ball over with 18 seconds to play. Then, after Asbury missed its second and third free throws down the stretch, the Saints had one last chance with six seconds remaining only to come up short on an Angelica Osusky (Romeoville, Ill./ Romeoville) inside shot.

“Our shots just were not falling today, but we did a great job of crawling back at the end,” said Quigley, whose team also committed 16 turnovers. “We got great shots at the end, including some near the basket, but we expended so much energy to get back in the game, that we came up short on those shots, as well.”

St. Francis finished the contest shooting just 39.3 percent, which was an improvement from a first half in which they hit on just eight of 28 attempts (.286). The Saints struggled further at the foul line, where they were only 10 of 17.

A 15-3 run midway through the first quarter and stretching two minutes into the second put the Saints in their 24-10 deficit before cutting that difference down to eight points, 31-23, at the break. Asbury built its advantage back to double digits (35-23) to start the third quarter before the Saints went on an 8-0 burst keyed by 3-pointers from juniors Charnelle Reed (Chicago Heights, Ill./ Homewood-Flossmoor) and Jordan Giddings (Rock Falls, Ill./ Rock Falls) to make it a 35-31 contest. As it did all day, though, Asbury countered with a Kylee Gorby 3-pointer to extend the Eagles’ lead back to seven, 38-31.

“They hit big shots all day when they needed them,” continued Quigley, who could only watch as the Eagles connected on eight of 14 three-pointers in the game. “We played much better defensively in the second half, but they still hit some big shots at the end.”

Brown was equally up to coming up big for the Saints when they needed her most, including the steal and basket late. She finished with a game-high 20 points. Reed was right behind with 19 points.

“Alexis played like a senior today. She did exactly what we needed from her today,” said Quigley. “She was definitely a leader on the court today.”

Brittany Warren led Asbury with 18 points, including three clutch three-pointers. Savannah Taylor added two other treys and 13 points, while Kali Whiteside collected a game-high 14 rebounds for Asbury.

The Saints finish the season 28-5 marking the best campaign in school history.

“Today hurt, but every year (over the past four years) we have done something better,” closed Quigley. “This was a record-breaking season for us as a program, as a team and individually for many players.  Today stings, but the program has a bright future.”

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