Freed Up To Beat The Mustangs

November 22, 2013

Santa Barbara, CA -- In an early-season showdown featuring two of the nation's top NAIA basketball powers, sixth-ranked Freed Hardeman (TN) built a 16-point first-half lead and then held off a furious second-half rally by No. 10 The Master's to win 79-70 on the first day of the CHM Hotels Invitational on the campus of Westmont College in Santa Barbara.

The victory kept the Lions undefeated at 4-0 while the Mustangs fell to 3-2.

The Mustangs drew first blood on a Jacquelyn Marshall (San Clemente, CA) layup 21 seconds into play but it was the Lions, a national tournament semi-finalist last year, who took control after that, tearing off a 13-3 run over a three-minute span to go up by eight points with 15:53 left in the opening half.  Taleeah Cross, who poured in a game-high 30 points, sparked the burst with five straight points.

The advantage reached ten points (19-9) on a Brittany Montgomery three-pointer at the 13-minute mark, however, the Mustangs struck back quickly, getting five straight points from Nicole Nitake (Torrance, CA), highlighted by a three-pointer, and a trey from Megan Lindsley (Vancouver, WA) to cut the deficit to two in just over a minute.

However, in the space of a minute, the momentum swung dramatically back to the Lions who scored the game's next 12 points while holding the Mustangs without a point for over three minutes, vaulting ahead 31-17.  A Millie Rivera (Allen, TX) layup with 8:27 remaining in the half put an end to the Mustangs' scoreless skein, but it proved to be just an interruption for the Lions who used six straight points from Cross to build a game-high 16-point lead (37-21) at the 6:24 mark.

In a first half highlighted by one run after another, it was now the Mustangs' turn and they put together a half-closing 10-3 burst to which four players contributed, including Kelly Burns (Yorba Linda, CA) whose four points brought the club within 40-31 at the break.

A Montgomery three-pointer in the first minute of the second half reclaimed a double-digit lead (43-31) for the Lions.  That lasted all of 17 seconds, though, as senior Zoe Scott (Spirit Lake, ID) countered with a three-pointer as part of a 10-point burst in less than five minutes, closing the Mustangs to within 49-46 with another trey at the 15:16 mark.

Over the next eight minutes, the Mustangs trailed by no more than six points and actually drew within one (53-52) on a Lindsey Levanen (Battle Ground, WA) basket with 11:31 left in the game.  The Lions responded with five straight points and then the Mustangs answered back, closing to within 59-56 on a Marshall layup a little more than three minutes later.

However, the Mustangs just could not narrow the gap any further as Cross scored eight of her team's next 10 points, extending the lead to 69-59 with just over five minutes remaining.  The Mustangs made one last rush in the final minute, reeling off seven straight points to make it a five-point (75-70) game but couldn't get any closer.  The Lions put the game away at the line, scoring the final four points from there, including two from Cross.

Scott led the Mustangs with a season-high 19 points, draining a trio of trifectas and going 8-9 from the line.  Rivera was the only other Mustang in double figures, hitting four of six shots from the field, including a pair of three-pointers, and 3-3 from the line en route to 11 points.  Marshall equaled a season-high with 11 rebounds as the Mustangs and Lions finished with 39 caroms apiece.

The nationally-ranked competition continues on Saturday when the Mustangs face off against No. 19 Carroll of Montana, the club that knocked the Mustangs out of the NAIA National Tournament last March in the first round.  The ball goes up at 1:30pm on the final day of the invitational.