BILLINGS, Mont. – If football is defined as a game of inches, basketball is defined by the little things that teams do throughout a game that can swing the outcome their way or cost them a game.
On Thursday, the little things came back to get the fourth-seeded Raven Women's Basketball team as fifth-seeded John Brown University (22-8) was able to withstand a strong second-half effort by the Lady Ravens to earn a 74-72 upset in the first round of the 2017 NAIA Div. I Women's Basketball Championship, presented by Wells Fargo.
"We had the lead there by four (in the fourth quarter) and came down and turned it over a few times and then they came down and hit some big shots," said Benedictine head coach Chad Folsom. "I thought our girls fought the whole time."
Benedictine finished the night with 17 turnovers, which John Brown turned directly into 19 points.
The Ravens found themselves playing from behind throughout the game. After a slow start allowed the Golden Eagles to pull ahead by as much as six points before a last-second floater from Maddie Minneart gave Benedictine a 15-13 lead at the first-quarter buzzer.
John Brown used a 17-point second quarter to regain the lead at the half, 30-28.
The Golden Eagles kept the momentum into the third quarter and pulled in front by as much as nine before the Ravens came storming back. The Ravens used a 14-7 run to pull within two, 55-53, headed to the fourth quarter.
Kayla Staley and Ali Taff combined for six straight points to start the fourth quarter, which erased the Ravens deficit and pulled Benedictine ahead by four points with eight minutes left in the game.
From that point, the lead changed hands three times. Benedictine's last lead came on a 3-pointer from Haylee Beard with 3:10 left to play and pushed the Ravens in front, 64-62. Another 3-pointer, this time from John Brown's Baily Cameron gave the Golden Eagles a 66-64 lead with just over 90 seconds remaining. It was a lead, they never gave back.
John Brown scored nine of their 19 fourth-quarter points off Benedictine turnovers as they were able to match the Ravens throughout the second half to hold on for the two-point win.
"In game like this against good teams, small mistakes add up," Coach Folsom said. "Through the course of the game, we had a few break downs where we left them open for shot, gave up an offensive rebound at a bad time or turned it over trying to look inside. All those things add up over time and against good teams, they'll make you pay and that happened tonight."
Seniors Step on big stage: The loss to John Brown signals the end of the careers of Ali Taff and Haylee Beard. The senior tandem step into leadership roles this year for Coach Folsom and the program and stepped up their game tonight.
"They've been leading us from the beginning," Coach Folsom said. "I think they developed into leaders even more throughout the course of the year, which was awesome to see. Ali has been hitting shots all season when we've needed them and Haylee came out tonight, missed a few shots early, but had to confidence to keep with it and got hot and really kept us in the game with her shooting. That'll be a night she'll never forget."
Beard scored a team-high 18 points off 6 of 12 3-pointers while Taff added 10 points, which included a 3-pointer inside the final 45 seconds of the game that cut Benedictine's deficit down to two points. Taff also finished with six assists to set a new single-season career high at 128, besting her 2015-'16 total of 123.
Season-Season scoring leader: Kristen Murphy joined Beard and Taff in double figures as well, she finished with 17 points off six total field goals – which included two 3-pointers – and three free throws. with her second basket of the third quarter, she set a new program record for single-season scoring. She needed just 10 points heading into the game to tie the record. She finishes the season with 538 points, breaking the record of 531 set by Jessi Vercande during the 1998-'99 season.
"She's huge," Coach Folsom said. "She's a player that's special where she can score everywhere. Has the ability to score inside, has the ability to knock down the three and can drive. She can do all those things well and we're looking forward to having her back to lead us again next year."
Gamenotes: With the loss by Benedictine, the No. 4 seeds combined to go 0-4 in this year's tournament. … John Brown connected on 51.9 percent from the floor in the second half with a 7-of-13 effort from beyond the arc. They finished the game with a total of 11 3-pointers. … Baily Cameron finished with a game-high 27 points off nine field goals a 7 of 10 at the charity stripe. … The Golden Eagles finished with 22-12 advantage in bench scoring.