LEXINGTON, KY. – Just as they had in two previous regular season meetings, Manchester University and Bluffton University of Ohio put on a thrilling finish in the quarterfinal round of the 2014 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Friday, Feb. 28.
The fifth-seeded Spartans, improving to 14-12, moved into the program's eighth HCAC final four with a 65-62 win over the fourth-seeded Beavers. MU battled back from an eight-point first half and 12-point second half deficit, sparked by a 19-7 run from the 15:44 to 8:16 marks of the second half that tied the game at 52-52. The final 8:16 saw the lead switch hands three times with the Black and Gold regaining control for good in the last minute, as junior forward Abby Lang (Indianapolis, Ind.) hit a pair of free throws and sophomore guard Justine Kruger (Francisville, Ind.) converted a key lay-up to overturn a 62-61 deficit.
"We just kept battling," Coach Josh Dzurick said. "Our players made the adjustments we asked of them at halftime. There were many that contributed to this including Kruger who had a big stretch in the second half and (senior forward Erynn) Meiklejohn (of Fort Wayne, Ind.) who came out of halftime and got our offense going when we really needed it."
Manchester University turned in a balanced scoring attack. Kruger tallied 15 to lead four players in double figures with junior guard Alyssa Smith (Bluffton, Ind.) ending with 13, and Lang and sophomore center Stephanie Barmes (Greenwood, Ind.) scoring 10 points each. Barmes helped guide a 35-25 edge on the glass, too, with seven rebounds. Junior guard Jocelyn Hamilton (Columbus, Ind.) dished out seven assists for her 26th straight multiple-assist game and became the program's all-time single-season leader in the category by moving to 145 for the season.
"To be able to do this is special, but I couldn't have without my teammates," said Hamilton. "I think my being healthier from last year to this year has been a big reason. I feel like I'm able to contribute more (to the team)."
"It's great to see this," Dzurick said. "We have a defensive philosophy, so for her to set the single-season assists' mark is pretty impressive. The statistic speaks totally towards team and being unselfish."
The Spartans, claiming the season series from BU by a 2-1 count in three games decided by eight points, move into the tournament semifinals Saturday, March 1. They take on top-seeded Transylvania University at 3 p.m. at TU's Beck Athletic Center.
NOTES: Kruger reeled off her third double figure scoring in her last four appearances. Her points-per-game average is up nine-tenths in the span (6.5 – 7.4) … MU has claimed a win in its opening HCAC tournament contest in six of the last eight seasons.