Ni'Ya Styles and Arieal Johnson both recorded career highs and University of Mount Olive notched its highest scoring total of the season, but free throws and a late run proved to be the difference as the Trojans fell to Erskine College 92-87 in Conference Carolinas women's basketball Wednesday at Kornegay Arena. Styles finished with 23 points, while Johnson tallied a double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
Mount Olive was 8-for-12 from the free throw line, compared to 22-for-36 for Erskine. The Trojans were whistled for 26 fouls, while the Flying Fleet were called for 14.
Mount Olive (2-4 overall, 1-2 Conference Carolinas) broke away from a halftime tie to take its biggest lead of the game as Styles' three-pointer and Johnson's basket gave the Trojans a 58-51 advantage with 14:27 left to play. Erskine (4-4, 2-1) came back with seven unanswered points, capped by Haleigh Spaulding's game-tying three-pointer with 13:13 remaining.
The Trojans rebuilt the lead to as many as five points as Ty Wallace's jumper with 8:13 left gave Mount Olive a 73-68 lead. Kristin Giles answered with a three-pointer for Erskine as the Flying Fleet rallied to tie the game 75-75 with 5:31 left. Johnson's tip-in with exactly five minutes left put Mount Olive back on top, but the Trojans would then go scoreless for nearly four minutes, allowing Erskine to take the lead for good.
Giles' basket tied the game for the 13th and final time, and Ashley Espinosa sank a pair of free throws with 2:49 left to cap a 10-0 run and give the Flying Fleet their biggest lead at 85-77. Johnson's putback with 1:22 left ended Mount Olive's drought and another Johnson putback made it a two-possession game at 86-81 with just over a minute remaining.
Erskine had a pair of 0-for-2 trips at the free throw line in the final minute, but Naomi Stuger pulled down offensive rebounds and the Flying Fleet finished with layups both times. Styles' layup with 20 seconds pulled Mount Olive within 90-87, but Giles iced the game for Erskine with a pair of free throws with 15 seconds remaining.
The first half saw eight tied and 10 lead changes as neither team led by more than five points, the largest advantage by each team coming before and after a 10-0 run by Mount Olive. Three-pointers by Shy'lia Buie and Rachel Fehl capped the run to give the Trojans a 19-14 lead with 11:08 before halftime.
The Trojans' lead was short-lived as Ashley Espinosa's three-pointer and Adrienne Bannerman's putback highlighted a 7-0 run and put Erskine back on top 21-19. The lead grew to four before Gabby Griffin sparked Mount Olive with a steal and assists on back-to-back possessions. Leah Graham's jumper two feet behind the free throw line tied the game 28-28 with 4:31 remaining.
The game was tied three more times before Erskine used Tara Potter's three-point play with 31 seconds left to regain the lead 39-37. Styles hit a driving layup through traffic with 16 seconds remaining to send the two teams into the locker room tied 39-39.
Five Trojans finished in double figures as Buie and Graham each scored 12 points, while Wallace added 11 points and nine rebounds. Buie dished out five assists, while Griffin finished with four assists and a game-high four steals to go with six rebounds.
Giles shared game-high honors with 23 points and led five Erskine players in double figures. Espinosa added 20 points and Bannerman recorded a double-double with 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Spaulding led all players with seven assists.
Mount Olive returns to action Saturday as the Trojans travel to Franklin Springs, Ga., to take on first-year conference member Emmanuel in the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Tip-off is 2 p.m.