Mercer downs Samford to reach SoCon title game
Courtesy: Southern Conference
Release: 03/02/2018
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ETSU's Erica Haynes-Overton
Courtesy: Southern Conference

No. 1 Mercer 81, No. 5 Samford 44

ASHEVILLE, N.C. Top-seed Mercer jumped out early and never looked back in an 81-44 win over Samford in Friday's first semifinal game of the Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship presented by General Shale at the U.S. Cellular Center. The victory sends the 25th-ranked Bears to their third title game in four years in the league.

SoCon Player of the Year Kahlia Lawrence scored a game-high 23 points to lead the way. KeKe Calloway and Amanda Thompson added 11 apiece. Olivia Crozier paced the Bulldogs with 13, while Hannah Nichols chipped in 12 points and six boards.

The Bears started strong and never looked back. They scored the first 18 points of the game before Cassidy Williams' layup at 2:52 got the Bulldogs on the board. Calloway closed the dominating quarter with a layup for a 22-4 lead heading into the second.

The lead swelled to 24, 32-8, on an Alex Williams layup. The Bulldogs scored the next nine points. Nichols started the run with a 3-pointer followed by two free throws on the next possession. A Bears turnover led to a Crozier layup and the lead was cut to 15, 32-17.

Mercer was not to be denied. It closed the contest just the way it started. The Bears' lead was 16, 40-24, with 8:16 left in the third quarter. They ouscored Samford 41-20 over the final 18-plus minutes to claim the runaway victory.

Mercer: 29-2
Samford: 15-16

The Bears are on the defensive through two tourney tilts. They've allowed their two opponent to shoot just 35.1 percent (34-for-97) from the floor along with a meager 29.6 percent (8-for-27) from beyond the arc.

This was the eighth time in 10 years in the league that the Bulldogs reached the tournament semifinals. Samford won the title in 2011 and 2012.

3 stats to know ...
- Mercer made nearly twice as many shots (35/18) as Samford and was especially impressive inside the arc, shooting 61.5 percent (32-for-52) on 2-point efforts compared to the Bulldogs at 33.3 percent (15-for-45).
- The Bears were +9 in turnover margin (6/15), scoring a 20-4 advantage in points off turnovers. They're at 48-4 over two games.
- Samford was limited to a season-low 10 3-point attempts, nearly half the 19.4 per game it averaged entering the contest. Three makes ties its season low, against Colorado (3-for-14) and UTEP (3-for-26).

No. 2 ETSU 54, No. 6 UNCG 52

ASHEVILLE, N.C. The second-seeded ETSU Bucs went the full 40 minutes to topple upset-minded No. 6 seed UNCG. Friday's 54-52 win sends the Bucs into the championship game of the Southern Conference Women's Basketball Championship presented by General Shale at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Tianna Tarter led all scorers with 17 points for the Bucs. Erica Haynes-Overton added 16. Ije Ajemba posted a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds for UNCG. Te'ja Twitty and Nadine Soliman scored 11 apiece.

It was a photo finish. Britney Snowden made the first of two free throws with nine ticks left on the clock for a 54-52 lead. She missed the second, but Haynes-Overton swooped in for the rebound and was quickly fouled. Her two free throws were off the mark, and Ajemba got the Spartans the rebound and called timeout with nearly five seconds to go.

The ball was set at half-court and UNCG went into motion. Twitty got the ball on the left wing. She drove, spun into traffic and the shot caromed off to the wing. Alexis Pitchford recovered but the horn sounded before she could get a final shot off.
ETSU moves on to the title tilt to face No. 25 Mercer. The two meet on ESPN3 on Sunday at noon in the U.S. Cellular Center.

ETSU: 20-11
UNCG: 13-18

The Bucs earned their fifth championship game appearance and second in the last four years. The last three runners-up are playing in the title contest, as ESTU fell to Chattanooga in 2015 and Mercer lost to the Mocs in 2016 and 2017.

Ije Ajemba had another double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds. It was her fourth straight and 17th of the season for the senior center.

3 stats to know ...
- It was a defensive struggle, with the two teams combining to shoot 36.3 percent (37-for-102) from the floor and 21.9 percent (7-for-32) from 3-point range.

- UNCG had a 12-3 advantage in second-chance points despite having just one more offensive rebound (13-12).

- ETSU was +3 in turnover margin (10/13) but was 10-3 on the plus side in points off turnovers.

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