Belles Take Down #25 Thunder in Season Opener
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - For the first time since the 2008-09 season, the Saint Mary's basketball team took down a ranked opponent at Angela Athletic Facility as the Belles defeated #25 (USA Today/ESPN Division III Coaches' Poll) Wheaton 66-63 on Tuesday evening.
After the visiting Thunder made the first basket of the night, the Belles hit three of their next four shots to take a 6-2 lead less than two minutes into the game. Saint Mary's was able to extend their lead after the teams traded the point advantage a couple of times. Kelley Murphy hit a jumper in the lane and Kayla Wolter added a fade away jump shot along the baseline to double the Belles' lead to eight points at 11:34 in the first half.
Wheaton edged within a point of the lead on a pair of free throws with just over nine minutes remaining before the first half, but Maggie Ronan hit a three to keep the Belles in possession of the lead. Each time in the first half that the Thunder scratched within striking distance of regaining the lead in the first 20 minutes of play, Saint Mary's was able to come through with a response of points.
Returning to the court in the second half with a 34-31 lead, Saint Mary's quickly matched their largest lead of the night with an eight-point cushion after a three pointer by Patsy Mahoney and a good jump shot by Ronan. Foul trouble on the Belles' end, however, helped Wheaton stay close as the Thunder reached the bonus just 6:29 into the second period.
After knotting the game on a layup off of a turnover and taking a two-point lead on a layup, Wheaton quickly saw their advantage disappear as Shanlynn Bias hit a pair of free throws at the 10:34 mark to tie the game at 49-49. On the Belles' ensuing possession, Maggie Ronan was fouled and made both ends of her trip to the charity stripe to give the lead back to Saint Mary's for good.
Wheaton would get within two points of the Saint Mary's lead in the final minutes of play, but just as they did in the first half, the Belles had a response. In the closing seconds, that response would be a key rebound by Maggie Ronan with three seconds left on the clock after a pair of missed Thunder free throws to seal the win for the Belles.
The Belles finished the game 14-of-16 from the free throw line while the Thunder made 14-of-27 attempts from the charity stripe. Saint Mary's outscored Wheaton on second chance opportunities (10-0) and had more production from the bench (14-0) in the victory.
The last time the Belles defeated a nationally-ranked opponent was January 3, 2009 at Angela Athletic Facility when Saint Mary's defeated then-ranked #1 USA Today/#3 d3hoops.com Hope by a 91-84 margin.
Ronan had a team-highs in both points (16) and rebounds (9) on the night as every member of the Saint Mary's squad saw action in the season opener. Her nine rebounds matches her career high set against Calvin on January 28, 2009. Kelley Murphy added 15 points and four rebounds. Jessica Centa rounded out the double-digit scorers for Saint Mary's with 14 points, seven rebounds, and three steals.
The Belles (1-0) have now started each of the past four seasons with a victory in their season opener. Saint Mary's will travel to the Manchester Tip-Off Tournament on Friday as they will take on the host Spartans at 8:00 p.m.