Pippa Passes, KY: The Alice Lloyd College Lady Eagles played the final game to ever be held in the Grady Nutt Athletic Center on February 24th before an enthusiastic crowd. In the semi-finals of the River States Conference Tournament, the hosts combined the clutch play of sisters Miranda and Kayla Wilson with a total team effort, and overcame a seven-point deficit in the final 7:14, to win a thrilling come-from-behind victory over defending champion Indiana University-East, 87-83.
ALC Coach John Mills took his club to Richmond, Indiana, on January 6th and faced the Lady Red Wolves in the only regular-season meeting between the two squads. In that contest, the hosts jumped out to a 13 point lead at the half and cruised to an easy 91-76 victory. Fast-forward to Saturday and East entered the matchup sporting a 22-9 record, and have been receiving votes in the national polls all season. Last year, they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NAIA National Tournament, and they had all intentions of retaining their title this year.
In the opening quarter, Lady Eagle First Team All-Conference performer Kayla Wilson came out battling IUE star Tia King, the two-time RSC Player of the Year. However, when ALC freshman center Alexandria Clifton scored 8 consecutive points, the home club trailed by just one (15-14) with 3:42 remaining. Unfortunately, Clifton picked up her second foul on the next play and was forced to leave the game the remainder of the half. When King sank a charity toss with .11 remaining, the score was knotted at 24.
In the second quarter, East received two trifectas from guard Libby Springmier to pull ahead. ALC battled back, and the fans were treated to the two opponents trading buckets. When Alice Lloyd star guard Miranda Wilson scored on a challenging drive and completed the old-fashioned three-point play with two minutes remaining, the contest was deadlocked at 42. It appeared that the half was heading toward a tie.
However, on the next possession, King would drain two free throws. After a defensive stop, Springmier followed with her third triple to make the score 47-42. King would then close out the half with two more free throws and a late jumper in the paint. When the buzzer sounded for intermission, East led 51-42 and the IUE star had poured in 20 points.
At the half, Mills knew he would have to make some adjustments. “Coming out for the second half, we decided to collapse on King when she penetrated to limit her drives. We also chose to run their other shooters off the three-point line and force them to put the ball on the floor.”
The third period saw Alice Lloyd fight back. Guard Haley Hall would pump in 9 points while Miranda Wilson added 7 to counter Kings 7 points and keep the score close. When Clifton scored on a rebound bucket with 1:37 left, the deficit was just two (63-61). However, East would close on a 7-2 run and take a 70-63 advantage heading into the final stanza.
In the final quarter, the visitors had ten minutes to hold their lead. Lady Eagles Miranda Wilson, Clifton, and Hall would combine to score 7 quick points, but Indiana East all-conference performer McKenzie Campbell would answer with a couple of buckets of her own. When King then shook loose to swish a smooth jumper with 7:14 on the clock, the lead was back to seven (75-68). It appeared that jersey # 22 would carry her group to the conference championship match.
With their backs against the wall, and the crowd imploring for a comeback, the ladies from Caney Creek responded by getting the ball to the Wilson twins. On the next Eagle possession, Kayla Wilson swished two foul shots to cut the deficit to five, which was followed a minute later by one from sister Miranda. Next, IUE’s Sara Cook sank a hoop for the visitors at 5:50 to give her squad a five-point cushion (77-71), but Miranda fed her sister beyond the arc, and once again, Kayla responded. Her bomb sliced the score to 77-74 and brought the crowd to its feet.
After a good defensive stop, the crowd level elevated a few decibels when Miranda Wilson’s beautiful jumper brought the score even closer (77-76). A Red Wolf bucket silenced the fans, but they were worked into a fever pitch on the next possession when Miranda Wilson swished a triple from the right side. With 3:54 remaining, the score was dead-even at 79 apiece, and it was anyone’s ball game.
After two misses by East, the fans nearly brought the roof down when Kayla Wilson gave her team their first lead of the second half. She missed a driving shot, but retrieved the rebound and scored (81-79). Over a four minute and thirteen-second span, the sisters scored 13 consecutive points and brought their squad back from a 75-68 disadvantage to an 81-79 lead.
Now playing from behind, the Red Wolves made a crucial turnover on their next play. Kayla Wilson then found Hall who made a beautiful spin move on the left side for a hoop. Suddenly, the advantage stood 83-79 at 1:54. IUE quickly got the ball to King who delivered with a driving goal (83-81). As the clocked passed one minute, each squad took turns missing opportunities. Finally, with just .36 showing, East got the ball to Campbell who missed a contested jumper in the paint. Hall snagged the rebound for the hosts and was quickly fouled. After she coolly swished both charity tosses, the lead was now four (85-81).
The Red Wolves pushed the ball inside to Campbell once again where she was fouled. Her two tosses reduced the deficit to two (85-83). The Lady Eagles brought the ball inbounds with 29 ticks left and were deftly able to run seventeen precious seconds off the clock before Kayla Wilson was finally fouled at .12. She missed the first but made the second to extend the lead (86-83).
With time now dwindling and the gym roaring with excitement, East got the ball to King. The star looked for a triple to tie the score but the overall ALC defense, coupled with the excellent pressure by Miranda Wilson, forced her to take a highly contested three-point attempt. Her shot came up short and her sister Kayla grabbed the rebound where she was fouled with just .04 to play. The first attempt rolled off, but the second was true and iced the game, much to the delight of the hometown fans.
For the victors (24-4), now winners of nine consecutive games, Miranda Wilson rammed in 22 points. She connected on 7-10 field goals (2-4 triples) and 6-9 free throws. She added 4 rebounds, 4 steals, and a game-high 6 assists. Hall came up huge once more as the freshman poured in 22 points and added 6 rebounds. She sank 3-4 from long distance. Clifton played solidly despite foul difficulties, as she tossed in 14 points and snared 6 boards. Kayla Wilson also hit double digits with 12 points. She added a team-high 7 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and added 2 steals. Junior center Emilie Harrell and freshman forward Makayla Akers both added 6 points while junior guard Courtney Vasquez, sophomore forward Jayla Spurlock, and freshman guard Shelby Davis chipped in with 2, 2, and 1 points, respectively.
The Wilsons showed why they are two of the finest all-around players in the conference and the veteran coach spoke highly of his star guards. “With the game on the line, coaches always look for their playmakers and I am not at all surprised how they took over the contest. However, not only are they our prime playmakers on offense, but they also are prime defensive players. We had to ask Kayla to turn the heat up more on King, and Miranda to turn the heat up on Miller in crunch time. Without their fine all-around play on both ends of the court, we would have come up short on the scoreboard.”
The victors finished the night shooting 46.3% (31-67) from the field including 42.1 % (8-19) from behind the arc. They sank 70.8% (17-24) from the charity stripe and added 33 rebounds, 13 assists, and 11 steals.
IUE (22-10) concluded an outstanding season led by King, who closed her brilliant career with 31 points. Campbell added 19 points. Their squad shot 45.2% (28-62) from the field and 41.2% (7-17) from deep. They finished at 87% (20-23) from the charity stripe and added 33 rebounds, 10 assists, and 8 steals.
With the victory, ALC now advances to the championship game of the RSC Tournament where they will face powerhouse University of Rio Grande on the road Tuesday, February 27th, at 7:00 pm. The #22 Lady Red Storm (29-3) hosted the Lady Eagles on January 21. In a game that went down to the final minute, the hosts pulled out a 78-71 win. Mills knows what is at stake in this matchup. “In the scheme of things, the only thing we have won is our division. Our goal is to go to Rio Grande on Tuesday and compete for a championship.” He added, “You have two outstanding teams that will battle to the wire to see which one represents our conference as champion in the nationals.”
Rio had already earned the conferences first automatic bid by winning the regular season title. By virtue of advancing to the championship contest, the Lady Eagles have sewn up the second bid before the matchup actually takes place. However, the pride of winning the River States Conference Tournament, not to mention the opportunity of improving the seeding at the NAIA National Tournament, makes this contest the most important of the season. A championship matchup between the top two clubs in the conference is only fitting, and the game should be a barnburner.