Kirksten Mitchell scored a career-high 23 points and Tamara Nesmith came within one rebound of a triple-double as Mount Olive withstood a late rally for a 78-71 victory over Fayetteville State in non-conference women's basketball Sunday at Kornegay Arena. Nesmith finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and a career-high 11 assists to help the Trojans post their best nine-game start since reclassifying to NCAA Division II in 1995.
Mount Olive (8-1) used three-pointers by Joneiqua Gary and Mitchell on back-to-back possessions to help extend an 11-point halftime advantage to a 52-32 lead with 15:10 left in the game. Fayetteville State (8-2) cut the margin to 12 on Kristen Hanzer's basket with 11:51 remaining, but Mitchell answered with a three-pointer on Mount Olive's next possession to give the Trojans a 59-44 lead.
After Fayetteville State pulled within 10 points, Nesmith drove the lane for a layup and hit the free throw for a three-point play to give Mount Olive a 70-57 lead with 4:33 remaining. But the margin would be cut to single digits as Fayetteville State forced three Trojan turnovers in the next two minutes.
Shuanda Ashford converted layups on consecutive possessions for Fayetteville State and Hanzer's basket with 2:29 left capped an 8-0 run and pulled the Broncos within 70-65. After the two teams exchanged baskets, Mitchell sank a pair of free throws for the Trojans with 1:32 left as the Trojans maintained a three-possession lead the remainder of the contest.
Jasmine McDonald helped Mount Olive seal the win, pulling down the rebound on a Fayetteville State missed shot and firing a length-of-the-court pass to Gary, whose layup gave the Trojans a 76-67 lead with 1:13 remaining. Gary added a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left.
Mount Olive raced off to an early double-digit lead as McDonald's bounce pass between two defenders in the lane found Nesmith under the basket to help give the Trojans a 14-4 lead with 14:28 left in the first half. Fayetteville State got as close as four points, but Mount Olive held the Broncos without a field goal for the final four-plus minutes of the half and led 37-26 at the break.
The Trojans were a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line in the first half and finished 24-for-29 for the game.
Nesmith, who entered Sunday's contest averaging more than 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, dished out her 10th assist before reaching double figures in points. Her previous career best was eight assists. Nesmith would have been the third player in Trojan women's basketball history to record a triple-double, joining Stephanie McCovery (1996) and Helen Moore (2010). Now a high school basketball coach, Moore was in attendance at Sunday's game.
Mitchell was 3-for-6 from three-point range and 6-for-6 from the line to surpass her previous scoring high of 21 points December 1 against Erskine. Gary added 15 points and shared game-high honors with four steals.
Hanzer led Fayetteville State with 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Brittany Whitehead added 12 points for the Broncos, while Ashford notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Fayetteville State came into Sunday's game having received a vote in the current WBCA Division II Top 25.
Mount Olive resumes Conference Carolinas action Saturday as the Trojans travel to Banner Elk, N.C., to take on Lees-McRae. Tip-off is 2 p.m.