Tornado stumble at North Greenville

Photo taken by Rachel Burrus

TIGERVILLE, S.C. – Unable to carry over momentum from its thrilling last-seconds victory over Pfeiffer on Saturday evening, the King University women's basketball team faltered in its last regular season contest, falling on the road to North Greenville University by a score of 69-45.

The Tornado (16-10, 10-8 Conference Carolinas) fell behind in the early going and were unable to get into an offensive rhythm for the entire game, shooting just 23.6 percent from the floor. Brittany Stringer led the team with eight points off the bench, marking the first time since a December 7 victory over Lees-McRae 20 games ago that no Tornado reached double figures in points.

The Crusaders (10-16, 6-12 Conference Carolinas), meanwhile, had three players in double figures, led by Krisceda Cotton with a game-high 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and seven rebounds. She also tallied three assists and five steals. Timisty Nelson and Jaquazha Barrino each had 12 points, with Nelson contributing a team-high eight rebounds in the winning effort.

King led for just 3:07 of game time in a contest that featured no ties and just one lead change. The Tornado took a 3-0 lead on the first field goal of the game, a shot from Stephanie Brantley from behind the arc. North Greenville, however, claimed a 4-3 lead on a Ciara Anderson layup at the 15:33 mark of the first half and never relinquished the advantage.

Unlike many basketball contests which are defined by patches of fairly even play interspersed through decisive runs, the Crusaders maintained a chokehold on the lead and slowly built their advantage throughout. King trimmed the lead to 9-5 on a pair of free throws by Kelly Jackson following the game's first media timeout, but found themselves down 18-5 just three minutes later. The lead fluctuated between nine and 12 points for the rest of the first half until Chelsea Bowling knocked down a three-point shot, poked the ball away from Aliyah Stokes, and found Whitney Mitchell for a fast break layup to trim the lead to 29-22 at the half.

Much like the first half, King was unable to cut into North Greenville's lead and threaten the Crusaders during the final stanza of play. A Stringer three-point field goal trimmed the advantage to 34-28 two minutes into the half, but North Greenville responded with an 8-0 run to push the deficit to 14 points and would never lead by less than 12 the rest of the way.

The suffocating North Greenville defense forced King into its second-worst offensive production of the season at 49 points. It was also the Tornado's lowest shooting percentage of the season, while North Greenville's 43.3 percent performance was among the highest shooting percentages the typically stingy King defense has allowed this year. The Crusaders scored 25 points off 21 King turnovers, including 14 steals, while the Tornado converted 15 North Greenville turnovers into just five points. The Crusaders also handily won the battle in the paint by outscoring King 38-8 and outrebounding the Tornado 48-36.

With its 10-8 conference mark, the Tornado have earned the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Conference Carolinas Tournament and will host a first-round home game on Saturday, March 1 at 5:30 p.m. The Tornado will not know their opponent for the tournament opener until Thursday night, with Erskine and Pfeiffer set to play in the final conference game of the year. Should Erskine win, the Flying Fleet will be locked in a three-way tie for fifth place with Barton and Lees-McRae at 9-9 in league play. In that scenario, the Tornado would host Lees-McRae on Saturday night due to the Bobcats having the best head-to-head record among the tied teams. With an Erskine loss, Barton would win the two-way tiebreaker over Lees-McRae and be King's opponent in the conference tournament opener.

Limestone won the Conference Carolinas regular season title with its 16-2 league mark and will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament, with Belmont Abbey claiming the No. 2 seed at 15-3. Mount Olive finished third with an 11-7 record, while King's 10-8 mark puts the Tornado in fourth place. North Greenville has clinched the No. 8 seed at 6-12 in league play. Pfeiffer and Converse have been eliminated from tournament contention.