No. 7 seed Mount Olive led top-seeded and nationally third-ranked Limestone early in the second half, but an 11-0 run broke the game open as the Trojans' Cinderella run came to an end with a 64-45 loss to the Saints in the Championship Game of the 2015 Conference Carolinas Women's Basketball Tournament Friday at Gaffney, S.C. Mount Olive, the 2013 Conference Carolinas champion, was making its third consecutive appearance in the title game. The Trojans were the first No. 7 seed to advance to the final.
Despite Friday's loss, head coach Wendy Lee expressed nothing but pride in her team, which is already pointing ahead to next season.
"The girls really did come together in this tournament," said Lee. "Different players stepped up in all three games."
Lee added, "In the locker room after the game, the seniors talked about how proud they are of the younger players and that great things will happen for them next year."
Mount Olive (14-17) never led in the first half, but baskets by Johnson and Wallace early in the second half gave the Trojans their first lead of the game at 32-31 with 17:43 left in the contest. After Limestone (30-1) went back on top on Ayshia McNeil's basket, Mount Olive regained the lead on a jumper by Wallace. Celestra Warren answered with a three-pointer with 15:35 remaining to give Limestone a 36-34 lead and the Saints led the rest of the way.
The margin grew to nine before baskets by Johnson and Wallace pulled Mount Olive within 44-40 with 11:02 left to play. Limestone built the lead to double digits for the first time as Jasmine Kearse hit a pair of three-pointers and scored the first eight points of the Saints' 11-point run to make it a 55-40 game with 6:39 left. Mount Olive was held to a single field goal over a span of more than eight minutes and scored only five points in the final 11 minutes.
Mount Olive trailed by as many as seven points in the first half before Wallace scored four points in a 6-0 run to bring the Trojans within 17-16 with 6:02 left before halftime. Limestone built the lead up to six points, but Johnson's layup with 2:02 remaining pulled Mount Olive within 28-26.
After a Mount Olive turnover denied the Trojans a chance to tie the game or take their first lead, Limestone used two offensive boards to keep a possession alive and Morgan Brown finished with a three-pointer to give the Saints a five-point lead. Johnson scored again with 46 seconds left as Mount Olive went into the locker room trailing 31-28 at the break.
The Trojans are now 6-2 in their last eight conference tournament games against higher seeded teams, both losses coming against Limestone in the championship game in each of the last two years. Mount Olive advanced to this year's title game with a 72-69 win at No. 2 seed King Saturday and a 55-52 victory over No. 3 seed Belmont Abbey Thursday night.
As the highest seeded team to advance past the opening round, Limestone played host to the semifinals and championship. The Saints earned an automatic bid to the 2015 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional, which is expected to be hosted by Limestone.
Johnson recorded a double-double for Mount Olive with game highs of 18 points and 13 rebounds. Wallace narrowly missed a double-double in her final collegiate game, finishing with 16 points and nine rebounds. Johnson and Wallace, who both earned All-Conference Carolinas honors, finished the season as the top two rebounders in the conference. Shy'lia Buie added nine points, six assists and five rebounds for the Trojans.
Kearse went 5-for-9 from three-point range and finished with 17 points for Limestone. Tournament Most Valuable Player Alicia Brookins added 16 points for the Saints.