By Tim Glon
HOLLAND, Mich. — No. 14-ranked Ohio Northern rallied for a 62-53 victory over Denison in the First Round of the NCAA III Women's Basketball Tournament on Friday at DeVos Fieldhouse.
The Polar Bears (23-4 overall) advance to the Second Round on Saturday at 7 pm against the winner of Friday night's second contest between host and No. 5-ranked Hope (Mich.) or No. 25-ranked Carnegie Mellon (Pa.).
The Big Red, who were nationally ranked throughout most of the season and received the 26th-most points in the latest D3hoops.com poll, see their season end with a 23-5 record.
"This was a great win for our program against a quality team," ONU head coach Michele Durand said. "It seemed like we were down for most of the game, but had a great fourth quarter. Our defense picked up our offense late in the game."
Northern opened the second half with a quick 6-0 run to grab a 25-24 lead just 2:11 into the period.
But the Big Red scored the next seven points to regain a 31-25 lead and maintained that for the remainder of the period, leading 41-35.
Senior Brooke Espenschied made a 3-point play to spark a 5-0 run to pull ONU within 41-40.
A 3-pointer by Espenschied sparked a 9-0 run later in the period to put the Polar Bears ahead 50-45 with 3:39 to play.
Two free throws by freshman Jenna Dirksen gave ONU a 57-49 lead with 1:23 remaining.
The Polar Bears then made 6-of-8 free throws in the final 1:04 to seal the game.
ONU out-scored DU 27-12 in the deciding fourth quarter.
Espenschied and Dirksen led a balanced ONU attack with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
"We relied on each other as teammates tonight," Espenschied said. "We had many girls step up late in the game, making shots and making plays. Then we made our free throws down the stretch."
Denison's 6-1 junior center Jordan Holmes entered the game ranked second nationally in blocked shots (6.1 bpg) and rebounding (17.9 rpg) made it difficult for the Polar Bears' inside game to work effectively. Holmes finished the game with 11 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
"We knew that Holmes is a great player," Durand said. "Once we quit driving into her and began pulling up for shots, we started having success. We are good at the mid-range jumper as a team and that made a big difference."