COLUMBUS, Ohio — A slow start turned out to be no problem for the University of Charleston Saturday evening.
Brooklyn Pannell scored 27 points and Erykah Russell added 17 points and seven rebounds as the Golden Eagles rallied from a big early deficit for a 79-73 victory against Walsh in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region women’s semifinals at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
UC (18-2), winner of five in a row, advances to Monday’s 7 p.m. championship game, which earns the winner a trip to the Division II Elite Eight national tournament, also set for Columbus. The Golden Eagles take on the winner of Saturday’s late game between Glenville State and Tiffin.
“I think for us, it was just constantly trying to preach to the girls to stay together, keep fighting,’’ said first-year UC coach Tianni Kelly. “That was what they did. They kept getting stops when we needed them. I’m really proud of the way they fought and stayed together and didn’t let up.’’
Charleston trailed 10-0 and 26-12 in the early stages before righting the ship. The Golden Eagles, however, didn’t take their first lead until Trinity Palacio scored on a drive in the final seconds of the third quarter to give UC a 54-52 advantage entering the final period.
From there, Pannell had nine points in the final quarter and UC made 11 of 14 free throws in the final 1:49 to protect that lead.
Walsh (17-7) was within 71-66 when UC missed the back end of a two-shot foul with 1:01 left, but Haley Moore grabbed the offensive rebound for the Golden Eagles and it led to another foul and Pannell hit one more free throw to make it 72-66.
Che Carter missed a 3-pointer at the other end for the Cavaliers, and Dakota Reeves snagged the rebound and was fouled. Her two foul shots with 44 seconds left bumped the lead to 74-66. Walsh was never again within five points.
Leading the Cavaliers were 6-foot-1 Mayci Sales with 25 points and eight rebounds and Carter with 18 points and eight rebounds. The Cavaliers led in rebounding 40-33, not surprising since they were plus-9 on the boards against opponents on average coming into the contest.
Palacio and Reeves each scored 11 points for UC, which trailed at halftime 38-32. Pannell dished out five assists and Palacio four.
UC’s Russell, like Pannell a first-team All-MEC selection, had to sit out a few minutes in the first half with personal foul problems but rebounded for a strong finish. She drew an offensive foul with 18 seconds left to wrap up the victory. UC’s defense came into the game allowing just 64.2 points per game, second-best in the Mountain East Conference.
Kelly knows her players will be ready to play in Monday’s finals.
“I definitely know the girls are very excited, they’re motivated,’’ Kelly said. “We know there’s bigger games left. We’ll just try to keep going. But we want to rest [Sunday] so that we do have more left in the tank.’’