BIRMINGHAM - Centre College limited Millsaps to just 31.7 percent shooting from the field and Paige Baechle came off the bench to score 12 points to help spark the Colonels to a 60-48 win here Sunday in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship game.
The win earns the Colonels an automatic bid to this week’s Division III NCAA Tournament. Centre (24-3) had not won the SCAC Tournament since 2001.
Senior guard Maggie Prewitt led Centre with 14 points as she was 4-for-7 from the field and 4-for-5 at the foul line. She also had four assists, four steals and two rebounds. Chelsea Benham was 3-for-9 from the field, but 6-for-6 at the foul line to add 12 points and eight rebounds. Baechle was 5-for-11 from the field. Lauren Huter added seven points, while starters Alyson Burke and Bridget Winstead each had three.
Jenna Mire contributed four points off the bench while Jane Goatley had three and Cailynn West two. Centre’s bench outscored Millsaps’ reserves 21-2.
“It was just another hard fought, tough win for us,” said Centre coach Wendie Austin-Robinson. “We had to make a lot of adjustments. They chased Maggie and we faced a matchup zone, diamond-and-one. Jenna Mire gave us nine big minutes the first half that might have made the difference in the game because we built a lead and it let Maggie rest on the bench to where she could play the whole second half.
“It was also a big day for Paige and Chelsea. But we had a lot of players that did a lot of different things well. It was a great weekend and a great way for our eight seniors to end the conference season. Now we have a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, a goal they have had all year. Again, that will to win and toughness just sustained us like it has all season.”
Shante Morton had 17 points and Velvet Johnson 14 for Millsaps, which used a 7-2 run to start the second half to trim Centre’s lead to 33-31 before a 3-pointer by Goatley pushed the lead to 36-31. Leading 45-41, Centre went on an 8-0 run that included six points by Prewitt and eventually extended the lead to 15 points.
Centre made 20 of 48 shots (41.7 percent), but was 6-for-14 from 3-point range and 14-for-17 at the foul line. Millsaps was 4-for-21 from 3-point range and 6-for-6 at the foul line. Centre also won the rebounding battle 36-34. Both teams had 13 turnovers.
Prewitt, who earlier had been named the conference player of the year, was named the tournament’s most valuable player after averaging 17 points per game. Baechle also made the all-tourney team.
The Colonels had their run of three straight conference tournament championships end as they fell 61-50 to Trinity Sunday in the title game. Centre trailed 28-18 at halftime after shooting only 20 percent from the field, but rallied to go on a 17-5 to start the second half and took the lead at 35-33 on a layup by Collin Lopez.
“That’s when tournament MVP Zach Lambert just took over. He hit three straight 3’s,” Centre coach Greg Mason said.
Lambert scored his team’s next 13 points and Trinity(20-8) held Centre (18-9) to just one field goal in six minutes to bolt to a 50-38 lead.
Overall, Trinity shot 39.6 percent (19-for-48) to Centre's 31 percent (18-for-58) from the field and 35.7 percent (5-for-14) from 3-point range to the Colonels' 23.8 percent (5-for-21). Trinity held a 37-36 edge on the boards and turned the ball over six times to Centre's eight.
“Our road was really tough and our guys did unbelievably well to get as far as we did,” Mason said. “Trinity was just better than us. They were just a little more than we could handle.”
Lambert finished with 26 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 7-for-8 at the foul line. He also had eight rebounds.
Senior guard Jeff Mullaney led Centre with 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting and had three assists while senior Greg Ross had 10 points, nine rebounds and one steal.¿Lopez was 4-for-7 from the field and had nine points while Karsner (3-for-6) had eight points.
Centre defeated Austin on Friday and ended Birmingham-Southern's 43-game home winning streak in Saturday's semifinal.
“This was a little different run for us. We have been to seven straight tournament championship games and won the last three, but we only had the fifth best record (in the conference). I would not say we were Cinderella, but it was close,” Mason said. “To make this run was really sweet. I¿think we had tired legs, but I¿could not be more proud of our team.
“Our seniors — Jeff Mullaney, Greg Cox and James Melloan — were part of 80 wins and three tournament championships in four years and did a lot for our program and college.”