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Hawks fall in final seconds

MURFREESBORO – It had everything you could want in a season-opening basketball game – except the result.

Chowan University’s women’s basketball team opened the 2010-11 season Saturday at the Helms Center on the short end of a 56-55 loss to Mt. Olive College, but not before showing their fans that they’re in for some great excitement this year.

Trailing by six points with three minutes to play, the Hawks fought back at took a one-point lead, 55-54, on a three-point play by junior guard and Suffolk, Virginia native Ransheeda Jennings with 17 seconds left.

However, after a time out and with just eight seconds left, Mt. Olive’s Jasmine Whitby took a pass and drove through the lane at the opposite end, stopped, and nailed a short jump shot cleanly through the net for what would be the game winner.

Chowan had one last attempt at pulling out a victory with three seconds left, but their shot sailed over the backboard and the Trojans simply ran out the clock for their first win of the season.

Jennings led all scorers with 20 points and tied senior guard Najah Harris for assists honors with five each. Last season’s Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association ‘Rookie of the Year’, Hampton, Virginia sophomore Talaya Lynch scored her first double-double of the year with 11 points and took rebounding kudos with 12.

Whitby had 13 points and 10 rebounds to pace Mt. Olive.

The Hawks really missed their chance at the free throw line where they only made 15-of-29.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our kids’ effort,” said seventh-year Chowan Head Coach Pat Mashuda.  “They worked really hard and with 20 seconds left gave themselves a chance to win; but great players make great plays in big situations and she (Whitby) just made a great shot there at the end.

“We controlled our outcome today,” he added, “we just didn’t make enough free throws and we had too many turnovers (22).  We’ve got plenty of things within our own control we need to worry about; so I just tip my hat to a big-time player making a big-time play.”

After tying the game at 2-2 a minute and a half into the contest, Chowan went on a 7-0 run capped off by Jennings’ first three-pointer of the afternoon.  Mt. Olive began to chip away, taking advantage of Chowan misses and turnovers, but the Hawks kept a cushion of several points before going on another run and building it to their largest lead of the half, nine points, at 15-6 on a Jennings jumper at the 11-minute mark.

Mt. Olive then made another run and took their only lead of the half, 16-15, before Chowan freshman Janelle Murphy got the Hawks back in front on a three-point play, but missed the free throw.

Chowan built leads of five points three times to the delight of the loud, raucous home crowd before the Trojans’ final run pulled them within a point with one minute until the break.

However, Jennings made a layup with 30 seconds left and Chowan took a 30-27 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Chowan had a poor shooting start to the second half and Mt. Olive roared back to tie it, 34-all, in the first five minutes of play. The Trojans then took the lead on a pair of free throws and built that margin up to eight points, 42-34, with just under 10 minutes to go.

But Chowan collected themselves and erased most of the deficit in the next four minutes thanks to their transition game.  Lynch missed a three-point attempt, but got her own rebound and was fouled on the short follow-up jumper in the lane and her three-point play whittled Mt. Olive’s lead down to two, 45-43.

With five and a half to go, senior Brittany Nicholson was fouled after a rebound under the Mt. Olive basket.  She made 1-of-2 free throws to get Chowan within one, but a layup and a three-pointer by Whitby had the Trojans back in front by six at the 4:30 mark.

The Trojans were still up by that same amount a minute later when Nicholson got a steal on the wing and drove in for a layup. Mt. Olive came down and missed, Chowan got the rebound and outlet the ball upcourt to a streaking Harris whose layup cut it to two, 52-50, and had the crowd on its feet and back in the game.

After two free throws pushed Mt. Olive back up by four, Nicholson found Lynch underneath for a layup in the lane.  Mt. Olive then turned the ball over thanks to the Hawks’ pressure defense and that’s when Jennings’ play with 18 seconds left gave her her only points of the half and set up the final drama.

“We were aggressive,” said Lynch, “and while that’s good, it wasn’t enough.”

Jennings added, “If we show up like this every night I think we’re going to be alright.  I scored in the first half and rebounded in the second.  Now I’ve just got just to put it all together.”

“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” said the upbeat Mashuda. “Maybe with a better game-plan we would’ve won today.”

Chowan (0-1) travels to the Peach State for the North Georgia State Classic this Friday and Saturday before returning to the Helms Center November 23 to face Bluefield (WV) State.

(By Gene Motley, Sports Writer)