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Chowan ladies knock off Cheney Univ.

MURFREESBORO – Down but not out.

Things may have looked bleak for Chowan’s women’s basketball team early on in their contest with Cheyney University, but the Hawks pulled it together marvelously and won their first home game of the season, and second game in three starts, as they took a 64-57 thriller from Cheyney University Sunday afternoon at the Helms Center.

“They found their way and their intensity picked up,” said a smiling coach Pat Mashuda after the game, “and when those things happen we’ve got a feeling and an energy about ourselves that just carries over to the whole team.

Sunday’s win was a total team effort as the Chowan reserves accounted for 31 – or nearly half – of the points scored in the contest.

Sophomore Brittany Nicholson again matched her season-high with 13 points while freshman Nichelle Bethea celebrated her eighteenth birthday with a career-high one-dozen points and junior A.J. O’Banion came off the bench to score 10 and post three blocked shots to go with four assists.

Three Cheyney (2-2) players scored in double-figures led by April Stephens with a double-double of 13 points and twelve rebounds.

“Tonight we just had so much more heart,” said Bethea afterward amid a joyous crowd of family and friends who’d made the trip down from Tidewater to help her celebrate her birthday. “It was so good to get this win.”

It started out not-so-good for Chowan, who didn’t break the scoring drought until nearly four minutes had ticked off the game clock. While neither team was lighting it up offensively, Cheyney was much more active on defense and led 15-5 midway through the first half as Chowan seemed both listless and lifeless.

The Wolves lead was 25-7 with five and a half minutes to play when O’Banion recovered defensively and blocked a shot on a fast-break attempt.

Suddenly, Chowan found it’s life and went on a tear. Bethea, O’Banion, and Ransheda Jennings ignited a 10-3 run to pull the Lady Hawks within 11 at 28-17. With a minute and a half to play three free throws had Cheyney ahead, 31-19, before Bethea snatch a rebound and drove coast-to-coast for her eighth straight point to pull Chowan within 10 at 31-21. A pair of Jennings free throws reduced it to an eight-point deficit at the break, 31-23.

“I told the team at halftime we were doing a lot of good things to bring that lead down,” said Mashuda. “So I said let’s look at the things we’re doing well and the things we need to shore up and let’s have 20 minutes of intense play instead of six or eight.”

Chowan got the message and off the opening possession Alicia McMorris knocked down a three-pointer to make it a five-point game, 31-26. It was a five-point margin two minutes later when Nicholson drained a three from the left corner and Chowan had cut the Lady Wolves lead to two, 35-33.

Off an out-of-bounds play, Acquanette Simmons found O’Banion in the low post and her lay-up had brought Chowan back to tie the game at 35-apiece; erasing an 18-point deficit in about nine minutes of game time. On the very next play, O’Banion followed with a rebound off a Cheyney miss and later, with three defenders surrounding her, scored to give Chowan its first lead at 37-35 and draw a huge roar from the crowd. The Hawks later pushed the lead to four on a pair of Nicholson free throws with 13 and-a-half minutes to play.

But Cheyney, playing their second game in less than 24 hours, would not surrender quietly. The next 10 minutes were a see-saw battle that saw five lead changes between the teams and a pair of ties before Chowan seized the lead for good with two and a half minutes to go. Trailing by a point, freshman Maddie Cummings rebounded a Chowan miss, dribbled out just beyond the left side of the free throw circle and let fly a rainbow jumper that put the Hawks back in front for good, 58-57.

Chowan coolly iced six of eight free throws down the stretch with the last one coming on a pair from Najah Harris two seconds before the final horn sounded to give the Hawks a seven-point win and collect not just cheers and whoops from the crowd, but a victory chant from the team as well.

“We had to stay aggressive,” said Nicholson, “which is what coach kept preaching in the locker-room. It was one of those nights when we needed a win and we just concentrated,” she grinned, “even at the free throw line.”

“We were very unselfish in the second half,” said Mashuda, “going inside not necessarily to score but to find open teammates. Today we were a little better with our post play and hopefully during this break we’ll hopefully get even better at it.”

Chowan (2-7) is off for the next nine days for their fall exam break. The women’s next game is a re-match against CIAA member, Virginia State – who took a 64-53 win in Murfreesboro back in November – on the 18th. It’ll be a month before the women return to the Helms Center, hosting Elizabeth City State on January 8.