Eastern Arizona upset in opening round of NJCAA Tournament

Eastern Arizona's Skye Miller attempts a shot during the NJCAA opening round. Contributed Photo

Recap provided by NJCAA

Lubbock, TX – Trailing by as much as 13 early in the third quarter, things weren’t looking too good for North Dakota State College of Science in its NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship opening-round game against Eastern Arizona.

Somehow, someway, however, the Lady Wildcats found a way and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament’s first round.

Arianna Berryhill had six points in a 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter, then iced the game with two free throws with 6.5 seconds left as the No. 21 seed Lady Wildcats rallied for a 72-66 victory over No. 12 seed Eastern Arizona Wednesday night at the Rip Griffin Center.

Berryhill finished with a game-high 24 points to go with eight rebounds and was 10 of 14 from the free throw line, leading a group of four players scoring in double figures.

“I’m so proud of every single one of them” said North Dakota SCS head coach Park Masterson, who had just eight players suited up for the game. “Fantastic, amazing, and I’m so glad with everything they did and so proud of them.”

The win, the first for NDSCS at the national tournament in program history, vaults the Lady Wildcats (30-4) into the second round where they will face No. 5 seed Blinn College a 3 p.m. on Friday.

Charita Lewis added 14 points, Ivy Fox 12 – including a huge 3-pointer with 31 seconds left that put the game out of reach – and Quinn Neppl 11 for the Lady Wildcats, who shot 46.9 percent from the field for the game.

Trailing 60-54, Berryhill and Lewis combined for a 9-0 run that put the Lady Wildcats up 63-60, and it would be a lead they would never relinquish, even though several times Eastern Arizona (29-2) got within a single point. Each time, however, the Lady Wildcats found a way to keep the Gila Monsters at bay.

NDSCS won the game with its aggressiveness and getting to the free throw line, where the Lady Wildcats were 18 of 24 compared to just 7 of 11 for the Gila Monsters. The Lady Wildcats also were 8 of 17 from 3-point range.

“We just found a five that was working,” Masterson said. “Offensively we found one of our offenses that was flowing for us and scoring out of it, staying with our gameplan defensively and executing, and honestly just outlasting them.”

Skye Miller led Eastern Arizona with 12 points while Tiara Bolden added 11 and Shalance Montoya 10 in the loss.

Eastern Arizona used its advantage inside and a strong shooting half to take a 41-33 lead at the intermission. The Gila Monsters shot an even 50 percent (19 of 38) from the field, going mostly inside for its points where it outscored the Lady Wildcats 26-10 on points in the paint.

The Gila Monsters also outrebounded NDSCS 22-15, including a 9-4 edge in offensive rebounds.

Conversely, North Dakota didn’t shoot that badly in the first half, hitting on 42.9 percent (12 of 28) from the field. That allowed the Lady Wildcats to stay within striking distance for the entire first half.

Neither team led by more than eight in the first half until Eastern Arizona went on a 10-2 run starting at the 5:13 mark of the second quarter and ending almost three minutes later. Vitoria Santa had a 3-pointer and Tiara Bolden scored the final seven points of the half for the Gila Monsters to give them the eight-point lead at halftime.

Bolden finished the first half with 11 points while Charita Lewis led North Dakota SCS with 10 points.