LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP)Sophomore Taylor Bell came off the bench to score 17 of her career-high 22 points in the second half to lead Southeastern Louisiana to its first NCAA Tournament with a 66-57 win over Lamar in the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament on Thursday.
The Lions never led in the first half and after trailing 36-27 at the break they quickly went down by 11. But with Bell scoring 10 points, Southeastern Louisiana charged back and led 53-47 entering the fourth quarter.
The game was tight down the stretch with the Cardinals closing to 59-57 on a Portia Adams layup with 3:55 to go but Lamar missed its last eight shots – the first were three 3-pointers for the lead. The best 3-point shooting team in the Southland at 37% was 3 of 20 for a season-low 15%.
SE Louisiana went 1 for 8 over the last seven minutes but made 9 of 12 free throws, 7 of 8 in the last 1:40.
Hailey Giaratano, the tournament MVP, added 15 points for the top-seeded Lions (21-9), who have won 10 of 11 to reach 20 wins for the first time in almost 20 years. Chrissy Brown added 10 and 5-foot-5 freshman point guard Jalencia Pierre had 11 rebounds to go with eight points.
Immediately after the game Good Morning America Anchor Robin Roberts tweeted, “Got my dancing shoes on…congrats on heading to the Big Dance!! #ProudAlum #LionUp” with green and gold heart emojis and clapping hands.
Adams scored 20 points for third-seeded Lamar (20-12), which swept SE Louisiana in the regular season. Akasha Davis had 16 points and 13 rebounds. The Cardinals were trying for their third NCAA trip.
Bell had three points from the foul line in the Lions’ 60-58 semifinal win over Texas A&M-Commerce, a game decided on Giaratano’s basket with less than a second to play. In that game, leading scorer Alexius Horne hurt her knee and was unavailable for the championship. Bell went 7 of 9 from the field, making all three of her season-high three 3-pointers, and was 5 of 6 from the foul line.
Lamar shot 55% in the first half, many of them layups, to take a 36-32 lead. After the Lions made a pair of free throws with 11 seconds to go, Adams weaved through the soft full-court pressure for the final points and the Cardinals had 26 points in the paint.
Southeastern shot 56% in the third quarter with two Bell 3-pointers and came up a point short of doubling its first-half score when it outscored Lamar 26-11. The Lions also had an 18-16 advantage in points in the paint.
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