Blossoms lose season opener

In the University of Arkansas at Monticello’s just-concluded football season, the Boll Weevils lost their first three games in the final minute of play. UAM women’s basketball coach Tanya Ray said she is hoping her Cotton Blossoms don’t follow suit after UAM saw a seven-point lead evaporate in a last-minute loss to Lindenwod University in St. Charles, Mo. on Friday night.

Dropping a regular-season opener for only the second time in her four seasons as head coach, Ray watched as Lindenwood’s Morgan Johnson made a layup with seven seconds on the clock to drop the Blossoms, 70-68.   

“I thought we did some things well enough to win the game,” Ray said, “but we also did plenty of things that cost us. We let some of their shooters get loose down the stretch and I didn’t think we did a good job with our transition defense and they were able to score some easy baskets.” 

UAM freshman Taylor Collins made a pair of free throws with 4:19 remaining to give the Blossoms a two-point lead over the Lady Lions, who had fought back to take a six-point lead with 5:43 left in the game after junior Jordan Goforth had given UAM its biggest cushion at 50-43 with a three-pointer at 11:37. Behind mainly Collins and Goforth, the Blossoms clawed back to lead 66-64 at the 4:19 mark.

Lindenwood’s Vanessa Zailo netted two free throws to knot the score at 66-all with 3:54 remaining. Neither team scored over the next three minutes, leaving the final scoring to come down to the final minute of regulation. The Lady Lions’  Jenny Rocha ended the scoring drought with a made jumper with 50 seconds remaining, answered by a layup from UAM junior Nikki Mullen with 36 seconds left. That only set up Lindenwood’s last-second heroics, however.

“I thought we did a good job of executing our offense,” Ray noted. “Of course, Jordan Goforth (who lead all scorers with 20 points) and Tamia Grady (17 points) continued where they left off from a year ago but I was pleased to see our freshman Taylor Collins step up and knock down some big shots for us. I hope we can continue to get that offensive production from her.

“I was also happy to see us compete from the tip to the buzzer. We made some mistakes at times but I can’t fault our kids’ effort. We will need that type of effort throughout the season.”

Collins finished with 15 points in her UAM debut, while 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore Tori Nichols grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds. Nichols, who transferred from Southern Arkansas University after finishing second to Goforth in the 2012-13 Great American Conference Freshman of the Year race, was also playing her first game as a Cotton Blossom.

After a back-and-forth 10 minutes to open the first half, the Lady Lions were the first team to separate themselves with a 13-0 run to take a 23-13 lead with 6:42 remaining in the opening period. Lindenwood got up by as much as 13 points before UAM made a run to end the half. The Blossoms outscored the Lady Lions 10-2 in the final four minutes of the half to cut the deficit to just two points at intermission.

In the second half, UAM used an 8-0 run to take its seven-point lead but Lindenwood scored nearly a third of its total points in the next six minutes with a 21-8 run to hold a 64-58 lead with 5:43 remaining.

The Blossoms shot 43 percent from the field (26-for-61), 38 percent on three-pointers (6-for-16) and 67 percent on foul shots (10-for-15). Lindenwood shot 42 percent from the field (28-for-67), 47 percent on three-pointers (7-for-15) and 88 percent on foul shots (7-for-8).

UAM is back in action on Thursday as East Central University visits Steelman Field House for both teams’ first GAC outing of the year. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.

The Advance-Monticellonian

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