The Ithaca College women’s basketball team defeated the DeSales University Bulldogs by a score of 76–75 to advance to the Elite Eight in the Division III NCAA Tournament March 8 at Bowdoin College in Maine.
The first quarter was dominated by junior forward Cassidy O’Malley and junior guard KellyAnne O’Reilly. O’Malley was red hot, as she scored 13 points in the first quarter. O’Reilly found her rhythm from the 3-point line, starting off 3–3. The pair combined for 22 of the 24 points scored in the first quarter. It was clear that the Bulldogs’ defense could not stop either of them, and the Bombers led 24–20 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the South Hill squad used a strong start to build up a double–digit lead. Near the halfway point of the quarter, O’Malley picked up her third foul forcing her to sit for the remainder of the quarter. Even without their leading scorer, the Blue and Gold held their own, including six points from sophomore forward Abbi Field. After both O’Malley and O’Reilly’s first quarter dominance, they both went scoreless in the second. Despite this, the Bombers were still able to find success. The South Hill squad took a 44–37 lead into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Bulldogs made their run. The Bombers’ offense could not finish on their shots and only scored 10 third–quarter points, ultimately being outscored by 10. At the end of the third quarter, the Bulldogs led 58–54.
The fourth quarter was a roller coaster after the Blue and Gold managed to get the deficit to just one point, the Bulldogs went on an 8–1 run. With just under five minutes left, the Bombers made a last push. On the first possession out of the timeout, O’Reilly hit a 3-pointer to lower the Bulldogs’ lead to five points. But the Bulldogs were not backing off. DeSales freshman forward Jordan Averi answered with a three of her own, increasing the Bulldogs’ lead to eight with under four minutes to go. After a layup from O’Malley, senior guard Annie Giannone took over. She scored 10 of her 19 points in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. She hit two huge 3-pointers to get the Bombers right back in the game.
The final minute of the game was back and forth. Giannone hit two critical free throws to give the Bombers the lead with 47 seconds left. The following possession she also came up with a steal and drew a foul which would eventually lead to free throws. Giannone did not complete either one and the Bulldogs got the ball with 25 seconds remaining and a chance to take the lead. They took full advantage of that, and Averi converted the go-ahead layup with 13 seconds to go. With one possession left for the Bombers, the team ran a play that put the ball in Giannone’s hands just before the buzzer. Giannone credited O’Malley with setting her up to make the final shot.
“We had called a time out and set up a play for me to go downhill and try to get to the basket,” Giannone said. “Cassidy set a great screen for me and I was able to turn the corner and bank it off the glass. My teammates and coaches trusted me to have the ball which felt really good.”
She converted a layup with 6.5 seconds remaining to give the Bombers a one–point lead and that was it — the Bombers were on their way to the Elite Eight
“I think we knew they were a very good team and they were going to have their runs, but it was important that we kept our composure the entire 40 minutes,” Giannone said. “We were down 8 and we never once gave up and that just shows how much grit this team has. It really is amazing to see.”
The South Hill squad will take on Bowdoin College at 7 p.m. March 9 in Brunswick, Maine.
“Bowdoin is a very good team,” Giannone said. “But we have proved that we are a very good team as well. We know we are going to have to play at our pace for a full 40 minutes and work hard every single possession. We are very excited to have advanced past the Sweet 16, but our goal is to keep going and make it to the Final Four.”