Last Modified: Saturday, March 09, 2013 6:58 PM
THIBODAUX — McNeese State’s path back to the NCAA basketball tournament is now the one with all the roadblocks.
The Cowgirls’ chances of earning a third consecutive appearance in the Big Dance suffered a severe blow Saturday afternoon with a 65-59 loss at Nicholls State. McNeese (16-13, 11-7 Southland) fell to the No. 5 seed in next week’s conference tournament in Katy, Texas, and will have to win four games in four days to earn the title.
“There’s no question it’s a tough one to swallow,” said McNeese coach Brooks Donald Williams. “It’s not about losing to Nicholls again, it’s about the lack of effort we showed in a game that’s very winnable. But hat’s off to Nicholls. They outplayed us from start to finish.”
McNeese trailed for most of the game before taking a short-lived lead on a pair of Shayln Riley free throws that capped a 10-0 run with 5 minutes left.
Nicholls retook the lead with baskets on its next two possessions and held a slim lead the rest of the way until Caitlyn Baggett hit a step-back 3-pointer with a hand in her face to tie the score at 59 with 1:26 remaining.
“I really thought that was going to be the turning point,” said Caitlyn, who had 10 points. “We were going to get a big stop and hit the shot to take the lead.”
However, McNeese’s game-long difficulty grabbing rebounds reared its head in a big way in the final minute.
Nicholls forward Jasmine Scott rebounded a pair of Colonels misses on the same possession, including one of her own, before finally drawing a foul and going to the line with 59 seconds left.
Scott hit both.
A Cecilia Okoye attempt on the other end was off the mark, with Scott getting the board once again and drawing another foul. Scott sank both of her free throws to put the Colonels up 63-59 with 31 seconds remaining. McNeese did not score again.
The Cowgirls were outrebounded 47-44, and had no answer inside for Nicholls forward Alisha Allen, who recorded a double-double with 29 points and 10 boards.
The Colonels (19-10, 11-7) are 10-0 when outrebounding opponents this season.
“It’s time to challenge our post players to play defensively,” Donald Williams said. “It’s not all about offense. It’s about defending and giving a lot of effort on the boards.”
McNeese was plagued by shooting troubles in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Cowgirls shot 25.7 percent (9 of 35) from the field in the second half.
“We got some good looks the whole game,” Donald Williams said. “But we got one look and we were done. That goes back to the post game. We’ve got to get some effort crashing the boards.”
Ashlyn Baggett scored a team-high 25 points for McNeese. She and Caitlyn were the only Cowgirls in double figures.
Fully aware the opportunity for a first-round bye slipped from their hands, the Cowgirls somberly walked out of the locker room after the game.
Caitlyn knows the team needs an attitude adjustment before Wednesday’s opening-round game with No. 8 seed Northwestern State.
“This is definitely a bad loss, but everything happens for a reason,” she said. “We’re going to have a team gathering to emphasize we have always done well in the conference tournament. It’s not over. We’re going to work on our toughness.
“I feel like we’re one of the best teams, but obviously we’re not right now. Whether or not we want to continue the season comes down to effort.”