STEVENS POINT, Wis. — After a great run in the NCAA Division III women’s basketball tournament, Whitman will have to settle for second.
The Missionaries squandered a six-point second-half lead and couldn’t hang with Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham Park late as Whitman fell 80-72 in the national championship game Saturday night at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse.
Both teams came into the game in search of their first national title.
“We just talked about it in the locker room how we need to not hang our heads about this loss,” junior guard Heather Johns said. “We made history at Whitman and … I think we need to be proud of ourselves and what we’ve done.”
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FDU was tough on the glass, pulling down 19 offensive rebounds that translated into 19 second-chance points and 21 points off turnovers.
“Part of that was we got out of rotations on trying to help on drives and then we just didn’t get quite back to the ball,” Whitman coach Michelle Ferenz said. “We knew that could happen, and so we really tried to keep their penetration up front with their guards and we talked about that, and for the most part we did a pretty good job.”
Johns, who had a career-high 33 points in Whitman’s national semifinal victory Friday, was on her game again. She scored a game-high 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. She had almost a one-on-one battle in the first half with FDU’s Kyra Dayon, who tallied 15 first-half points and 18 for the game.
“She’s a great player, and she’s really fast,” Johns said about Dayon. “She’s tough to guard, and we definitely struggled to guard her.”
Whitman (31-2) took an early 11-4 lead by breaking FDU’s press on multiple occasions for easy hoops. FDU picked up the pace and tied the score at 16 as Dayon scored eight points during a 12-3 run.
FDU (33-0) took its first lead of the game, 21-20, at 8:58, on a Dayon three-pointer, to put her first-half total to 15 points. Johns hit a runner in the paint to give Whitman its lead back. The Missionaries upped their advantage to six, 31-25, on back-to-back baskets from Sarah Anderegg, who finished with 15 points.
FDU was resilient at the end of the half and tied the score before Whitman took a one-point lead, 33-32, at the break.
Whitman’s Tiffany Traver nailed back-to-back three-pointers early in the second half to put the Missionaries up 42-37.
Whitman pushed it to 45-39 with 16:34 remaining after Johns hit a baseline runner.
However, FDU went on an 13-4 run and Whitman was down 52-49. The Missionaries took back the lead again as Traver splashed another three-pointer, and it was 59-57 with 8:51 remaining.
FDU answered back with a 12-3 run to take a 69-62 lead with 4:21 left. A Johns basket pulled Whitman to 70-66, but the Missionaries couldn’t get any closer than that. FDU ended the game on a 23-13 run.
Whitman finished the game shooting 50 percent (27 for 54) from the field and FDU was held to 38.5 percent (25 for 65).