Macon, Ga. - Sophomore guard Victoria McGowan (Inkster, Mich.) scored a game-high 22 points in Friday's Atlantic Sun Conference tournament semifinal against Belmont, but none more crucial than the final three. With Stetson down 46-45 with 1.4 seconds left, McGowan received an inbounds pass and released a running heave as she crossed halfcourt, swishing it through at the buzzer to boost the second-seeded Hatters (19-12) to a 48-46 victory and a berth in tomorrow's A-Sun championship game at Mercer's University Center.
A low-scoring game was tied 43-43 in the final minute when defensive stops on both ends led to the Hatters having the ball. McGowan was fouled with 13.6 seconds left and she made both free throws to put Stetson ahead 45-43. Belmont point guard Shaunda Strayhorn made what appeared to be the game-winning play on the ensuing possession, going the length of the floor and making a layup with a foul drawn with 1.4 seconds showing on the clock. Her made free throw gave the Bruins a 46-45 edge.
Stetson had no timeouts remaining before McGowan's shot, a line drive from approximately 50 feet away, touched off a raucous celebration on the Stetson sidelines. Instant replay confirmed McGowan got the shot off before the final buzzer.
The Hatters led 27-24 at halftime and by as many as six in the second half before seventh-seeded Belmont (11-20) erased that advantage and set up the drama in the final minutes. With the victory, Stetson advances to face fifth-seeded Jacksonville for the A-Sun title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament at noon tomorrow at the University Center. The Dolphins pulled a stunner of their own, knocking off top-seeded ETSU, the three-time defending A-Sun tournament champions 61-59 in the first semifinal of the day.
McGowan added three steals and perfect six for six free throw shooting to her 22 points; the buzzer-beater was her fourth three-pointer of the day. Senior guard Tierra Brown (Orlando, fla.) added 14 points with senior center Natasha Graboski (Upper Sandusky, Ohio) pulling down 10 rebounds. Stetson blocked 10 shots on the day, tying a season high in rejections.
Haley Nelson put up 18 points and 11 rebounds to lead Belmont while Strayhorn finished with seven points and a game-high four assists.
Tomorrow's title game will see Stetson look to beat Jacksonville for the second time in three matchups this season and advance to its second NCAA Tournament in program history; the last one came in 2005. JU has never won the A-Sun tournament but will be playing in its third championship game in the last four seasons. The game will be televised regionally on CSS.
Head Coach Lynn Bria - Opening Statement
"Wow. It was a great game. I thought the whole game was good. I thought Belmont did a really good job
defensively on us. We had a hard time getting anything going. It definitely wasn't an offensive barnbuster,
it was a defensive game for both teams. It was just an unbelievable shot that Victoria made. I guess if
there is time on the clock you always have a chance."
On the foul at the end of the game to set up the shot and not having timeouts
"It was probably a blessing that I didn't have timeouts because we could get it on the right like that and
go...We were very fortunate to win this game. I really thought - if nothing else - that it would go to
overtime I just did not want to give them a three-point play, which we did. But that's the beauty of the
game, the real highs and lows."
On Jacksonville tomorrow
"I really haven't thought a whole lot about it. We just played them about a week ago and they are playing
at a really high level. That's the great thing about March. If you put three games together you can go to
the greatest show on Earth. We are going to have our work cut out for us, I am sure they will be ready.
We will be ready and I think it will be another great game."
Victoria McGowan - On the last second shot
"I was just trying to get a shot off before the clock ran out and I didn't think I would have enough time,
but I did and I prayed for that to go in...I have never did it in a game. It felt good and I saw the rotation
was good so I thought it had a chance, but I wasn't sure."