Down 21 points late in the second quarter, the Wilmington College women's basketball team had two choices. They could roll over and accept that No. 4 Thomas More was the better team, or they could put the 'Fight' in Fightin' Quakers.
They chose the latter.
Wilmington fought back to as close as two on multiple occassions, but couldn't quite get over the proverbial hump in falling to the reigning National Champion Saints, 61-59, in the championship game of the 2016 Fred Raizk Memorial Classic Wednesday at Fred Raizk Arena in Hermann Court.
"I am proud of how we fought back in the second half against a really, really quality team," said Wilmington head coach Jerry Scheve. "I am not sure what happened in the first half. I know we couldn't make shots. I was upset with more than that. I don't think we played with confidence in ourselves, and completely turned it around by the second half. Like I told them, we lost to three teams that haven't lost a game between them. We are playing a tough schedule to get us ready for this second half of the year. If this game didn't get us ready, I don't know what will."
It marks the third loss of the season, all at the hand of nationally ranked teams, for Wilmington. The three teams have a combined 30-0 record this season.
Senior Ja'Cole Tabor (Dayton, OH/Chaminade Julienne) drilled a three-pointer from near half court to bring Wilmington to within 18. But more importantly, it brought some much needed life to the WC bench and crowd. Up until that point, it felt as though nothing would fall for the Fightin' Quakers. Wilmington shot just 12.5 percent (2-of-16) in the first period, and was a paltry 19.3 percent (6-of-31) from the field until Tabor's second three-pointer of the season hit the bottom of the net at the buzzer.
Thomas More was able to keep the hosts at bay, but a collective team effort – sparked by the gritty work by Tabor – enabled Wilmington to exert itself. Five different players found the scorebook as WC closed the third quarter on a 15-4 run. With the spurt, the Fightin' Quakers' deficit was single digits.
The Fightin' Quakers wouldn't go away, and when senior Brittaney Jefferson (Dayton, OH/Chaminade Julienne) was fouled on her basket with 2:18 remaining – Wilmington trailed by two. However, Jefferson missed the free throw.
Missed chances at the charity stripe as WC went just 12-of-20 from the line hurt the team's opportunity for pulling the upset.
"We need to be a better free throw shooting team," said Scheve. "That's one thing we haven't done very well. We have to get in the gym and start shooting free throws."
On the next possession, Thomas More took advantage of its three-point play to push the lead back to five. The Saints were 14-of-18 from the line.
Senior Ashley Andracki (Columbus, OH/Bishop Watterson) pulled the Fightin' Quakers back to two with a three-pointer of her own. Once again, TMC countered with a basket for the two-possession lead, and then sophomore Mackenzie Campbell (Cincinnati, OH/Turpin) got WC back to within two.
A missed free throw kept the door ajar for WC, but an offensive foul robbed the Fightin' Quakers of the opportunity to pull even. Thomas More iced the game with a pair of free throws.
Wilmington won the battle on the glass, 51-40, including 21 offensive rebounds. It was the second straight game the Fightin' Quakers managed at least 20 boards on the offensive end.
"We talked earlier about how we had one possession with five offensive rebounds, and never scored, well they had one of those in the second half," said Scheve. "They had six or seven offensive rebounds, and finally did score. You turn that one possession around and the game goes the other way. Obviously we have rebounded better the last two games."
Campbell led the team with 14 points on seven rebounds with one assist and one block, while Jefferson added 13 points with four rebounds and three steals.
Tabor, while a lot of her contributions wouldn't appear on the stat sheet, tallied a career-high 11 points with four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal. Andracki contributed 10 points on four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Senior Mary Moyer (Martinsville, OH/Clinton Massie) pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds.
Wilmington (7-3 overall) will have a long layoff for the holiday before returning to action 7:30 p.m. December 30.