Lewis toughs out regional championship
HOUGHTON – Monday night, the Lewis Flyers increased their toughness and increased the length of their season into the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in school history.
The second-seeded Flyers got huge nights from both of their All-Midwest Region First Team players, Mariyah Brawner-Henley and Jamie Johnson, in defeating Ashland 83-76 at the SDC Gym for the Midwest Regional championship.
“I thought toughness in the second half for us was the difference. We were better on the boards, we were tougher with the basketball and stronger with the basketball and that’s what we needed to do to beat a really, really good basketball team,” Lewis coach Lisa Carlsen said.
Brawner-Henley finished with 30 points and 18 rebounds, with 21 of those points coming after halftime, at which point Ashland led 34-32.
Johnson’s 31 points included three triples and 14-of-14 from the free-throw line.
“I think in big-time games, big-time players step up and I think that’s what you saw tonight,” Carlsen said.
Though both members of Ashland’s starting frontcourt had double-doubles for the second game in a row, the Flyers (31-2) were able to avoid the pitfall that doomed Southern Indiana and Michigan Tech in the first two rounds of the tournament. Ashland finished a normal 31-of-70 from the field and had a tolerable five three-pointers for the game.
Senior guard Taylor Woods saw strict defensive attention and posted 15 points, essentially her season average.
“We made a concentrated effort to try and not let them get too comfortable, their guards get too comfortable. Especially Taylor from the perimeter, seeing what she’s done the last two games, we felt like we needed to slow her down and get her out of rhythm the best we could,” Carlsen said.
Even then, Ashland had a narrow halftime lead thanks to the efforts of the freshman duo of Andi Daugherty and Laina Snyder, who had a combined 25 points and 11 rebounds in the first half. They had all nine points in a run the Eagles put up to finish the half ahead.
Brawner-Henley, a junior, was no slouch either in the first half, putting up nine points and nine boards, but in some important circumstances, Carlsen challenged her to raise her game and the Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year responded.
“I think the thing that they were doing was being more tough than we were. I’m an upperclassman and I took that to heart going out at halftime,” Brawner-Henley said.
Ashland expanded its lead to 38-32 early in the second half before taking the lead back with an 11-3 run in which Brawner-Henley had nine points and assisted on the other basket.
“Sometimes they need to be reminded just how dominating they can be. They’re great kids and they’re nice kids and sometimes we’re too nice and we need to be reminded,” Carlsen said.
Extending its momentum, Lewis went on a 12-2 run (Brawner-Henley had nine more points, including a three) to take control near the mid-point of the half.
“She was getting deep seals on us and that was something that just requires us to move our feet and try and keep her off the block. She’s extremely, extremely talented and she found the block and got seals and used her body very well. It was a handful,” Ashland coach Sue Ramsey said.
The Flyers closed it out with help from 18-of-22 free-throw shooting in the second half.
Lewis will play Limestone next Tuesday in the NCAA Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Brawner-Henley and Johnson were named to the All-Tournament Team, including Woods, Daugherty and Michigan Tech’s Danielle Blake.
Daugherty led the Eagles (25-9) with 21 points. Snyder finished with 20.
The game ended the lengthy and storied career of Ramsey as Ashland’s coach. Ramsey announced her retirement before the season, and posted more than 350 wins as coach of the Eagles since 1995.
Respect and admiration for Ramsey’s work, which included a 2013 national championship, flowed through the halls of the SDC all weekend. Even in the postgame press conference, Ramsey smiled and expressed gratitude to God, the school and the players (including Woods, AU’s only senior) who gave her the chance to do something she clearly loves.
“They’ll be back strong. Two of us will be gone, but they’ll be fine. I’m so grateful and thankful that I’ve been blessed to be able to coach them,” she said.