Berry's game winner lifts UC to NCAA Tourney


ITHACA, N.Y.  - Junior forward Jessica Berry (Rome, N.Y.) netted the game-winning lay-up as the buzzer sounded to lift the Utica College women’s basketball team to a 38-37 win over top-seeded and host Ithaca College Saturday afternoon in the Empire 8 Conference Tournament Championship game. The Pioneers, who have now won two conference championships in the last three years, earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament next weekend. The NCAA seedings will be announced Monday afternoon. 

The win marks the fourth time in program-history the Pioneers have advanced to the NCAA Tournament as they improved their record to 21-6 overall on the year. 21 wins is the second most in program-history.

Headed into the championship the Pioneers had lost both regular season contests against the Bombers by a combined seven points. Ithaca, which snapped a program-best 17 game winning streak, dropped to 22-5 overall.

On Ithaca’s final possession of the contest Lindsey Brown drove the lane, made the lay-up, and was fouled with four seconds left in regulation to knot the score at 36-36. She converted on the ensuing free throw to give the nationally-ranked No. 28 Bombers their first lead since the 9:38 mark of the first half.

Ithaca went 0-for-10 from the floor in the first 4:30 of the contest but the Pioneers could not capitalize shooting 1-for-6 and turning the ball over twice. Both teams exchanged blows in the next 9:10 - featuring three ties and four lead changes until the Pioneers went on a 9-3 run to take an 18-13 lead with 2:51 to go in the first half of play. Both teams would convert on one field goal in the final two minutes and the Pioneers took a five point lead, 20-15, into the locker room at halftime.

All-Conference honorable mention Katie McGee and Meghan Fiore combined for 13 of the Pioneers 20 first half points. Ithaca shot a dismal 18.2% (6-for-33) from the floor in the first half.

UC jumped netted two straight buckets to open the second half and extend its lead to nine points, 24-15, until Ithaca’s Lindsey Brown drilled the team’s first 3-point field goal of the contest to cut the lead back down to six points at the 16:09 marker.

Fiore would knock down four straight free throws on two consecutive possessions to extend the Pioneers lead to 31-20 with 10:39 to go in regulation. IC responded with an 8-0 run in a span of 5:46 to cut the Pioneers’ lead to three points, 31-28, with 4:43 to go in the second half of play.

After a 4-0 run by the Bombers cut the lead to just two points, 34-32, with 58 seconds to go, Fiore banked a transition lay-up off the glass on the ensuing possession to extend UC’s lead back to four points with under 50 seconds to go in regulation.

Freshman Meghan Fiore led the way for Utica with 15 points, while Berry closed out the evening with 11 rebounds and four points. McGee netted seven points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Elissa Klie led the way for Ithaca with 16 points and nine rebounds.

Ithaca, the top seeded team in the East region, will look to earn an at-large bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament.  

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