The College of Charleston women's basketball team came within one possession Thursday night of a storybook comeback. But a turnover ruined the Cougars' chances of tying the game and allowed Stephen F. Austin to escape with a 78-74 Women's Basketball Invitational semifinal victory before a crowd of 609 at TD Arena.
Charleston found itself down by 19 points with 11 minutes to go against a team that was 20-2 this season with a lead going into the final 10 minutes of games.
With the end of the season staring them in the face, the Cougars turned up the defensive intensity and clawed their way back into the game. When Stephen F. Austin's Daylyn Harris missed a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining and the Cougars grabbed the rebound, the storybook ending needed only a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime.
But freshman Breanna Bolden lost control of the ball in front of the Cougars bench with five seconds left and Stephen F. Austin was able to advance into the WBI championship game.
"I would put the ball in Bre Bolden's hands again and again and again," College of Charleston coach Natasha Adair said. "She's been part of this success. That play did not determine the outcome. The game determined the outcome. I think you can go back to the way we came out of the locker room at the start and find some plays as well. So that was not the determining factor for tonight."
Adair said the one thing she and her staff ask of the players is to leave the game exhausted, and they lived up to that expectation.
"We rallied. We got stops. And we got back in the game," Adair said. "No, it didn't go the way we wanted it to go. But they can walk off TD Arena floor and be proud of their season, be proud of what Charleston women's basketball stands for. The tears will dry. The seniors have laid the foundation for what's next. We said let those feelings drive you."
Adair said she expected a tough game from Stephen F. Austin, which won the Southland Conference regular season. But the Ladyjacks got off to a good start and managed to thwart any of the rallies the Cougars made in the first half, building a 40-34 lead at intermission. Stephen F. Austin hit 16 of 30 field goals in the opening 20 minutes (53.3 percent) and was 6 of 10 from 3-point range. The Cougars hit only 14 of 35 first-half field goal attempts and just 3 of 8 free throws.
"We had opportunities and we didn't capitalize," Adair said. "It wasn't necessarily what they did, it was that we didn't execute, in my opinion. We had some open looks that didn't fall."
Adair said they talked about turning things up at halftime, only to see Stephen F. Austin score 10 unanswered points to start the second half, forcing the Cougars to call timeout.
"We told them don't get married to the score. The score doesn't dictate how we play. We turned up the defensive intensity, denied a little more and scrapped a little more and the momentum shifted our way," Adair said.
The Cougars, who finished the season with a 19-15 record, were led by Alyssa Frye with 18 points and seven rebounds. Afreyea Tolbert added 17 points, Bolden scored 12 points and Jillian Brown finished with 10. Mikaela Hopkins had 8 points and 10 rebounds.
Stephen F. Austin, which improved to 23-12, was led by Porsha Roberts, who had 28 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks.