Women’s basketball: Transylvania holds off Smith College in D3 Final Four, 76-65 (PHOTOS)
|Published: 03-19-2023 11:45 AM
HARTFORD, Conn. – With 1 minute, 13 seconds remaining in the game, the Smith College basketball team was down but not out.
Trailing 72-65, the Pioneers were starting to see some momentum swing their way. Ally Yamada and Jane Loo hit a pair of triples early in the second half that brought the Smith fans to their feet, and the team slowly clawed its way back from a 15-point deficit to a seven-point gap.
Already with four fouls, Morgan Morrison drew a charge to get a stop and put the ball back in Smith’s hands. Finally, it seemed like there was a glimmer of hope.
But just as quickly as it appeared, it was snuffed out. The referees in Saturday night’s NCAA Division 3 Final Four game reversed the initial call, whistling Morrison for her fifth and final foul. The senior walked to the bench in tears, and when Madison Kellione sank both free throws for Transylvania, the life went out of the building.
The 76-65 final was a frustrating end to what has been a magical season for the Pioneers. Despite playing just 25 minutes because of foul trouble, Morrison led the team in scoring with 24 points and added eight boards, while graduate student Katelyn Pickunka paced the team with 14 rebounds and added 21 points.
Transylvania will play Christopher Newport for the D3 national title on April 1 in Dallas.
“I've been facing this the whole year. We feel like a lot of physicality against me is brushed over. I got hit in the head like three or four times and nothing, but when I'm bodied up and I tried to hold my own down there, it’s a foul on me,” Morrison said. “It’s something I've been having to work through this entire season. It was completely out of our control. It was just something we had to deal with and had to find a solution for quickly. I felt we did the best we could and I know I tried the best I could.”
After getting out of the first quarter unscathed, Morrison drew two fouls in the first three and a half minutes of the second, sending her to the bench. With Morrison out of the lineup, Transylvania went on a 16-6 run to close out the second, shooting 83 percent from the floor to send it into halftime up 38-31.
“That was the quarter that was really the separator and gave them some confidence and put us on our heels a little bit,” Smith head coach Lynn Hersey said. “Morgan’s faced that the entire year. We probably needed other players to step up and make some other plays, and I think we had some who did and some of our shots just weren't falling.”
Smith’s depth, which has been its X-factor all season, got lost against Transylvania. Three-point sniper Yamada went ice cold, going 1-for-10 from the three-point line, and starters Jessie Ruffner, Amelia Clairmont and Dashelle Gleissner combined for just four points. Meanwhile, Transylvania’s starters scored all but five of its points, lead by the combination of Kellione and Dasia Thornton, who was a menace in the paint.
Transylvania also outscored Smith 19-11 in the third frame to build up its lead, and from there it was just too much of a mountain for the Pioneers to climb. As the final buzzer sounded, the massive Smith crowd cheered the team off the court, chanting “We love Smith!” as the team received its Final Four trophies and had one last team huddle on the court before heading to the locker room.
“I just reminded them, they're competitors. They've competed all year long. Ultimately, we have a community who really believed in us, and I think being able to, in that moment, just make sure they looked at the crowd and to feel the support from parents, families, friends, professors, our president, our athletic director,” Hersey said on the last huddle. “We did a lot of special things this season, and I wanted to make sure that they felt that. I also wanted them to make sure they felt the loss too. There's a part of both of those things that are really healthy for our program. So we're going to take both pieces, and stick together and take care of each other.”
Westhampton native Pickunka saved her best basketball for the postseason in her final year at Smith. The graduate student was one of two players, along with Gleissner, to take a fifth year and come back to compete. Pickunka averaged 12 rebounds a game and 11.6 points per game in her five NCAA games, and both she and Gleissner were linchpins for Smith’s historic run.
“I haven't really been able to reflect on the season as a whole. We're having these amazing historical moments that Coach (Hersey) is talking about, and that happens, and then we're prepping for the next day. So there's very quick turnaround,” Pickunka said. “I haven't quite experienced that reflection period. But there's a lot of amazing memories and moments to reflect upon once I have that.”
It will take awhile for the Pioneers to process the loss, but the question floating around Smith’s campus is whether Division 3 Player of the Year Morgan Morrison will elect to take her fifth year and suit back up for the Pioneers’ next season. It was a big decision for Pickunka and Gleissner last year, and Morrison is still contemplating her next move.
“That's been the question all year. It's something I really need to take time to think about,” Morrison. “I've really just been focused on the season and working hard and helping the team get here the best I can. Now it's time to think, really figure it out and go from there.”
Hannah Bevis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.