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Lady Eagles lose in overtime
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Western Carolina University's Diamond Hunnicutt looks for an open teammate during Friday's first round of the SoCon basketball tournament at Kimmel Arena, in Asheville, N.C. - photo by Erin Brethauer/Asheville Citizen-Times

    ASHEVILLE, N.C. —Georgia Southern’s women’s basketball team forced overtime Friday, but seventh-seeded Western Carolina eliminated the 10th-seeded Lady Eagles from the first round of the Southern Conference Tournament for a second consecutive season.
    Lady Catamounts senior guard Kaila’Shea Menendez, an All-SoCon selection, scored a game-high 21 points, and freshman guard Makensey Campbell came off the bench and added 20 points, including five 3-pointers, to power Western Carolina to a 61-56 victory.
    Last season, Western Carolina beat GSU, 48-42, in Chattanooga, Tenn., to knock the Lady Eagles out of the tournament.
    GSU, the No. 10 seed, finished this season with an 8-22 record, the seventh losing season and worst record in Rusty Cram’s 16 years as head coach.
    “We played hard,” Cram said. “There’s little things at key times. This time of year, you’ve got to be able to make plays at crucial times. They made them. We didn’t. (Campbell), she shot the lights out; 5-for-9, I think, from the 3-point line. We let down on that. You get one or two, and certainly they’re going to hit those. But you have to make her put it on the floor, and all of hers were set shots. We didn’t get to her and that broke our back.”
    Western Carolina (14-16) advanced to the quarterfinals and will play No. 2 seed Appalachian State (23-5) at 6 tonight at Kimmel Arena.
    GSU rallied from a seven-point deficit in the first half and took a five-point lead, 25-20, at halftime. The Lady Eagles led by as many as nine points in the second half before Western Carolina took a 44-43 lead thanks to junior forward Diamond Hunnicutt’s foul shots with 1:07 to play in regulation. Campbell’s foul shot gave the Lady Catamounts a 45-43 lead with 31 seconds to play.
    GSU used a timeout with 26.5 seconds remaining and called a play for sophomore guard MiMi DuBose, who made a driving layup through traffic to tie the game at 45 with 14 seconds to play.
    “Coach Cram said we have to get it to the rim, and they’re either going to foul you and we’re going to shoot free throws or they’re going to let you go all the way,” DuBose said. “Time was running down and I knew that I had an open lane, so I pushed our post player out of the lane and just took it to the hole.”
    Western Carolina’s inability to get off a final shot, because of GSU senior guard Janay Wilson’s defense, forced overtime.
    GSU freshman guard Anna Claire Knight’s layup and foul shot cut Western Carolina’s lead to two points, 56-54, with 48 seconds to play.
    But Western Carolina guard Ali Lane, an All-SoCon Freshman Team selection, and Menendez each made foul shots to extend the Lady Catamounts’ lead to 60-54 with 30 seconds left.
    GSU’s DuBose missed a 3-pointer with 19 seconds to go, senior guard Samantha Williams rebounded and missed a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, and Knight rebounded and missed a 3-poiner with 8 seconds remaining. Sophomore guard Jordi Cook rebounded and made a jump shot with 5 seconds left to cut it to 60-56.
    Lane’s foul shot with 1 second left made it 61-56. She finished with 11 points.
    “I thought we had good post presence the first half,” Cram said. “We had 12, 14, 15 points inside. In the second half, we got none inside. So they got to be able to put more pressure on the wings out there and that hurt us. And then we had to go to the free-throw line and they knocked them down.”
    DuBose led GSU with 12 points. Williams and Wilson (team-high six rebounds) added eight points apiece, and Knight had seven points. Junior starting guard Meredyth Frye finished with two points and two rebounds, and sophomore starting forward Danielle Spencer had four points and three rebounds.
    “It’s always tough to see seniors go,” Cram said. “They lay their hearts on the line. They practice hard every day. This is a grueling life. College athletics, when you put in the academics, the time that it takes to be on the road, you know, you hate to see these kids put their hearts out on the line every day and then you see it come to an end for them. It’s tough. You hate to see it end.
    “If you can get a win or two under your belt (in the SoCon Tournament), it’s a whole lot easier. But to me, of all the losses, this is always the hardest: the first one in the tournament. We haven’t been here very many times but, hopefully, the kids that are returning will remember it for next year, remember this feeling, and improve in the offseason.”
    GSU beat Western Carolina, 41-40, on Jan. 21 at Hanner Fieldhouse. The Lady Eagles lost, 55-46, to the Lady Catamounts on Saturday in Cullowhee, N.C.
    “We played them a week ago and I didn’t think that we played a complete game, and we lost by nine or 10,” DuBose said, her voice cracking as she fought to hold back tears. “But they put us out of the tournament last year, so for me and for the returners, it meant a lot. And we just couldn’t pull it out.”
    Noell Barnidge can be reached at (912) 489-9408.