It was supposed to be a one-sided game. Instead, it turned into an ulcer-inducing affair that needed five extra minutes to decide it.
Trailing by three points with five seconds to go, Bethany’s Lauren Simpson made a free throw then intentionally missed the second. It did not end up in the hands of a Bison teammate, as Simpson hoped, but rather in the grips of Valerie Dunlap.
Finally, after rallying from a 16-point deficit in the first half, Washington & Jefferson College had an 85-81 overtime victory against a torrid-shooting Bethany team in the first round of the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Tournament at Henry Memorial Center Tuesday.
The win propels the Presidents to 19-7 and sets up another game against Saint Vincent Friday in the semifinal. Thomas More plays Waynesburg in the other semifinal game. Both games will be played in Crestview Hills, Ky., home of the Saints.
Bethany finishes with a 7-19 record.
“Oh my gosh, Bethany played fantastic,” said W&J head coach Jina DeRubbo.
The Bison shot 47 percent from the field, but it was their sizzling 14 three-point field goals in only 28 attempts that helped forge a huge first-half lead, then keyed a second-half comeback that tied the game 71-71 in regulation.
Taylor Verrico had a career-best 36 points and sank 7 of 9 three-point shots for the Bison.
“Verrico just went nuts on us,” DeRubbo said. “We couldn’t stop her. She had 19 points and 12 rebounds Saturday (in W&J’s 75-64 victory). She was so streaky and athletic, and we let her stand out there and shoot.”
This was a game of clutch shooting. While Bethany dropped in a season-best 14 three-pointers, it was Alexa Burzese’s shot in overtime that arguably saved W&J. The 5-7 senior guard sank a three-pointer with 1:24 to stretch the lead to four points, 80-76. That shot staggered the Bison and a short jumper by Beka Bellhy and free throws from Kara Seamon and Dunlap sealed the win.
“That was our best three-point shooting night,” said Bethany head coach Rebecca Upton. “We never make more than 10 in a game.”
Dunlap, a 6-3 junior center, and Chelsea Apke, a 5-10, senior forward, offset Bethany’s shooting by dominating under the boards. Dunlap had 24 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Apke chipped in with 19 points and 13 rebounds.
In the first half, the Presidents fed Apke and Dunlap for easy layups, but the Bison would counter with a three-pointer, including eight in the first half that gave them a 32-16 lead with 6:59 left in the half. W&J outscored Bethany, 17-8 over those final six minutes to cut the lead to 40-33 after 20 minutes.
“We talked at halftime. We knew we could beat this team,” said Dunlap, who broke the school’s record for career blocks Saturday with the 134th of her career, one better than Lee Sulkowksi. “We knew if we’d panic, we’d lose. We settled down in the second half.”
Dunlap was right. W&J went on an 18-4 run to take a 53-49 lead through the second half, then extended it to 61-52 after a layup by Apke with 7:18 to play.
Five three-pointers sent the Bison back in front, 71-69, with 2:09 to play. The game turned sloppy, but W&J managed to send it to overtime when Apke and Erin Lavery each hit one of two free throws. W&J had a chance to win but turned it over with 19 seconds to go, and Bethany’s last shot of regulation was a way-off-the-mark three by Verrico.
W&J led 77-71 in the overtime but an 8-3 run by Bethany tied the game, 80-80, with 51 seconds left. A turnaround shot by Bellhy, who finished with 12 points, and Seamon’s free throw made it 83-80 with five seconds to go.
“Burzese hitting the three in overtime was gutsy,” DeRubbo said. “All three of her threes came at crucial times.”
Upton bemoaned the Bison’s struggles at the line, where Bethany hit just 13 of 21 shots while W&J made 17 of 21.
“W&J didn’t panic,” Upton said. “They play with such control. When they get moment, they are hard to stop.”