WINTER PARK, Fla. (March 12, 2012) - Rollins earned its first trip to the Elite Eight Monday as the top-seed Tars beat six-seed Valdosta State 56-54 in the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament Championship game.
Rollins (27-5) led 32-25 at the half and held off a late Lady Blazers run to cut down the nets in NCAA postseason for the first time in school history. The Tars had previously played twice in the title game and made sure the third time was the charm.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but had no idea how hard it actually was to win this game," said Rollins Head Coach Glenn Wilkes Jr. "Valdosta is a heck of a team and we knew they were going to keep coming at us all night. That's exactly what happened."
Ashley Jones was shutout in the first half, but scored 14 in the second to lead the Tars. She also added eight rebounds and hit what shook out to be the game-winning 3-pointer with 2:18 to play.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Paris Moore tallied 10 points, five rebounds and three steals. Jones joined her on the All-Tournament team.
Brittany Ferguson led VSU (22-8) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Sczeny Hertry netted 10 while Brittney Nelson tallied nine points and six rebounds. Ferguson and Nelson were named to the All-Tournament team, along with Michaela Hawley of Florida Southern.
The Tars outrebounded the Lady Blazers 37-34 and committed 13 turnovers while forcing 17. Valdosta shot 39 percent (20-52) and hit 7-of-20 from 3-point range while Rollins was 19-of-51 (37 percent) from the field, but just 3-of-20 from long range.
In front of a season-high, pro-Rollins 1,231 fans at Warden Arena, Valdosta set the tone early and led 16-9 after the first nine-minutes. Rollins responded with a 7-0 run over the next three minutes to knot the score at 16 with 8:37 to play in the first.
The Tars later led for the first time at the 5:30 mark off a Jasmine Bradley steal and Sarah Blackburn fast break layup. Hartry quickly answered with 3-pointer for VSU to put them back on top before Rollins closed the half on a 12-3 run to take a 32-25 advantage into intermission.
Jones, Rollins leading scorer on the season, finally scored for the first time with a triple five minutes into the second half, giving Rollins a 39-33 lead. The Tars would go up by as much as eight midway through the period only to see the Lady Blazers come back to knot the score at 53 with 3:04 to play.
Jones swung the momentum back in Rollins favor with a step-back 3-pointer to give the Tars the lead for good with 2:18 left. The sophomore nearly closed the door with 26 ticks left, but a 3-pointer against the shot clock went left and was rebounded by Bena Hanyard for VSU.
The Tars had two fouls to give and burned 22 seconds in doing so until finally putting Hartry at the line with four seconds showing. She hit the first and intentionally missed the second, but Sarah Taylor snared the rebound for Rollins and was fouled with less than a second to play. The freshman then fired the ball off the rim as time expired with Warden Arena erupting.
"Rollins had to beat a very good Valdosta team tonight," said Valdosta Head Coach Kiley Hill. "My hats off to them, they hit all the big shots and did what they needed to do down the stretch."
The Rollins men's program in 2004 is the only time the Tars have been represented in the Elite Eight.
Rollins will meet Southeast Region Champion Lander University, who beat Wingate 72-67 Monday evening. The Tars and Bearcats will close first day action at the Elite Eight in San Antonio, tipping off at 8:30 p.m. inside Bill Greehey Arena on the campus of St. Mary's University.