LAKELAND, Fla. (March 4, 2012) - Rollins built a 22-point lead in the second half, but had to hold on down the stretch as the 17th-ranked Tars beat 19th-ranked Florida Southern 71-68 Sunday to win the program's seventh Sunshine State Conference Tournament championship.
The victory gives Rollins (24-5) the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament and likely sets up the Tars to host the event in Winter Park. The official bracket will be released on NCAA.com at 10 p.m. on Sunday, March 4. Florida Southern (23-6) is also expected to be a top seed.
Tournament Most Outstanding Player Ashley Jones led Rollins with 17 points, including a trio of timely 3-pointers. Tera McDaniel added 13 points and nine assists while Sara Blackburn chipped in 11 points and seven boards off the bench.
McDaniel and Paris Moore joined Jones on the All-Tournament team.
A Jones 3-pointer five seconds into the game set the tone as the Tars built a 15-2 lead after the first 10 minutes. The defense shined, holding the Mocs to 1-for-7 shooting and forcing seven turnovers during the span.
A Moore steal and breakaway layup gave Rollins a 25-9 advantage with 5:55 to play in the half. In the waning moments of the period, Sofie Lundburg hit from long range for FSC to make it a 31-20 game, but Kourtie Berry drained a jumper in the final seconds to give the Tars a 33-20 advantage at the half.
McDaniel hit two 3-pointers and Kristina Mingos drained one early in the second half as Rollins jumped out to a 48-26 lead with 15:46 to play.
The Mocs then got its offense going and posted a 13-0 run over the next four minutes to cut Rollins' lead to 48-39 at the 11:12 mark. The Tars pushed the advantage back to 10, 55-45 with 7:35 to play only to see FSC chip away and close the gap to 65-63 with 1:47 left.
Jones swung momentum back in Rollins' favor with a 3-pointer on the next trip down the floor, but a pair of Michaela Hawley free throws on the end of the court made it a 68-65 count at the one-minute mark.
McDaniel missed the front end of a one-and-one with 18 seconds to play and was quickly followed by a Danielle Walsh layup to make it a one-point game with 11 ticks left.
McDaniel was fouled again and calmly sank a pair of redeeming free throws to put the Tars up 70-67. Rollins fouled Taylor Maldonado twice in the final eight seconds where she hit one and missed two intentionally to try and give the Mocs another shot. On the last attempt, the ball was tied up by Sarah Taylor and Hawley with the possession arrow pointing at Rollins. Blackburn hit one-of two after a quick foul with four seconds left and a FSC half court shot at the buzzer was off the mark.
Hawley, the SSC Player of the Year in the regular season, paced Southern with 22 points and 10 rebounds. She was 8-of-8 from the free throw line and 7-of-10 from the field. Lundberg and Morgan Lamberg each added nine points.
Rollins shot 43 percent and held the Mocs to 26 percent in the first half and 42 percent for the game. FSC earned a 36-35 advantage on the glass.
The tournament title is Rollins' seventh, all under head coach Glenn Wilkes Jr., as the Tars cut down the nets for the first time since 2005. Rollins will be making its 12th trip to the NCAA Tournament and will look to host for the first time since 2004 where they advanced to the championship game.
Fans can follow Rollins run through the NCAA Tournament live on the Tars Sports Network at RollinsSports.com.