RICHARDSON — Mary Hardin-Baylor stumbled early Friday night but stayed on its feet, and the Lady Crusaders are still dancing.
UMHB successfully navigated the highs and lows, the ebbs and flows of its first appearance in the women’s NCAA Division III Tournament, and the 13th-ranked Lady Crusaders dominated the final 31 minutes on their way to a 70-56 first-round victory over Rhodes at UTD Activity Center.
The first NCAA tourney win in program history propelled UMHB (26-3) into today’s second-round meeting with No. 16 Texas-Dallas at 7 p.m. for the right to advance to next week’s Sweet 16.
“I think in those first nine minutes, it was the emotion of being in our first NCAA Tournament and the different kind of setting,” Lady Crusaders coach Mark Morefield said. “We had to go through the emotions and dial back in. Once we did, we settled down.”
UMHB suffered through a 4-minute scoreless drought and trailed by as many as eight points in the first quarter before surging and never looking back. Junior guard Alicia Blackwell, who scored 11 points in the opening frame, hit a 3-pointer to bring the Lady Crusaders within 16-13 after the first 10 minutes, and UMHB dominated in the second.
“It’s just the way I play. I had to stay locked in,” Blackwell said. “I know was can go further than this.”
Sophomore point guard Madison McCoy drained two 3s early in the second period, and Hannah Holt and fellow junior guard Kendall Rollins connected from long range on consecutive possessions during the Lady Crusaders’ 31-7 game-changing run that pushed them to a 39-23 lead heading into halftime.
“Alicia started out strong. Being a leader, I felt like I needed to step up as well for our team to win,” Holt said. “That’s what needed to happen, and I had no doubt that we would do it.”
The majority of Rhodes’ first-half production came in the paint, partly because of eight offensive rebounds that helped offset the Lynx’s 1-for-5 effort from 3-point range. On the other end of the floor, eight of UMHB’s 12 first-half field goals were from beyond the arc.
The third was a tale of two quarters, with Rhodes (17-12) going on a 6-0 run over the first 3½ minutes, and the Lady Crusaders outscoring the Lynx 13-3 the rest of the way to carry a 52-32 advantage into the fourth.
Rhodes tried to rally in the final period but got only as close as 11 points at 58-47 with 5:39 remaining.
“I thought we fatigued a little bit, and (UMHB) started hitting some big shots,” Lynx coach Lauren Sumski said. “I was proud that we made them do some things that they don’t normally do. We knew they didn’t shoot it (from long range) as much as we do, and we wanted to make them do that. They got really hot, and that’s part of the game.”
Allie Young scored 17 points, Lindsey Whiteside 15, and Alyssa Owens 11 for Rhodes, which finished 4-of-14 from 3-point range and had only one offensive rebound over the final three quarters.
Holt had a game-high 20 points, Blackwell finished with 18, and Rollins grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds for UMHB, which had trouble driving to the basket against Rhodes’ packed defense but overcame it by shooting 11-for-25 from beyond the arc.
With their first NCAA Tournament win in their pocket, the Lady Crusaders face a quick turnaround to take on UT-Dallas, the latter of which upset UMHB in last weekend’s championship game of the American Southwest Conference on the Lady Crusaders’ home floor.
“Our girls know what their talent is and they know what they can accomplish. They know how much they can bring to the table. There isn’t much motivation needed after a team beats you,” Morefield said. “We wanted to be the best team on the floor at 5 o’clock today, and we want to be the best team at 7 o’clock tomorrow.”