The Middlebury women's basketball team netted a 62-54 victory over John Carroll on Friday at DeSales, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. The Panthers (20-7) move into Saturday's 7:00 p.m. regional final against the host Bulldogs, a 77-49 winner over Shenandoah. Middlebury reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since the 2001-02 season and just the fifth overall in program history.
The Blue Streaks saw their eight-game winning streak snapped and finish the year at 22-7.
The Panthers jumped out to the early lead, forging a 7-2 advantage in the opening four minutes. Kira Waldman accounted for five points in that run, including a three-pointer from the right wing. John Carroll finished the frame with an 11-2 burst with Nicole Heffington, the Ohio Athletic Conference Player of the Year, netting a pair of threes for a 13-9 lead.
In the second stanza, a trey by John Carroll's Shmoo Pryor pushed the lead to 16-9 with less than a minute expired. Middlebury closed the gap to 24-23 on a conventional three-point play by Colleen Caveney. The Blue Streaks countered with three-straight buckets, before Betsy Knox sank a jumper with 42 seconds left and a pair of free throws with seven ticks on the clock for the Panthers, cutting the margin to 30-27 at the half.
The Blue Streaks pushed their lead to six points (34-28) in the beginning stages of the third quarter, but Middlebury tallied six-consecutive points to tie the game. Maya Davis hit the tying bucket, putting back an offensive rebound. She followed that bucket with two free throws and a three-pointer, giving the Panthers a growing 39-34 lead just past the midway mark. Middlebury held a 49-42 edge at the end of the frame, with its defense limiting John Carroll to only 2-13 shooting from the floor during that span.
The Blue Streaks started the final 10 minutes with a 6-0 run, but a three-pointer from Alex Huffman with 4:06 on the clock gave the Panthers a 52-48 lead. Middlebury never allowed John Carroll to get any closer than three points (54-51), with Huffman hitting four free throws in the final 1:25 and Knox another pair as the Panthers advanced with the 62-54 triumph.
Waldman led four Middlebury players in double figures with 15 points with Knox netting 12, while Davis and Huffman each scored 11 points and grabbed eight boards. Catherine Harrison had a balanced game with four points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Heffington paced the Blue Streaks with 15 points, while Pryor finished with nine. Olivia Nagy chipped in with six points and a game-high 10 rebounds.