Up until the 3-point shot by Taylor Ruper bounced around the rim and fell out in the final seconds, the University of Akron had a chance to beat Wright State on Saturday at Rhodes Arena.
The Zips, who gave up several chances to secure a victory, eventually lost 72-71.
“Hanna [Luburgh] can score. Hanna’s a great scorer. At the end of the game there are so many players you can go to at the end of the game. I’m not going to sit here and double-guess the end,” UA coach Jodi Kest said of Ruper taking the last shot.
To their credit that final shot came courtesy of the team’s gut, guile and ability to sink 3-point shots as shown by Luburgh, who connected on 6-of-9 3-pointers, including her first five, and led the Zips with 26 points, also grabbing nine rebounds. Forward Rachel Tecca added 16 points and nine rebounds.
But that wasn’t enough to pull this game out of the fire as the Zips (7-2) couldn’t do much to stop Kim Demmings, the Raiders’ (3-4) speedy point guard and the Horizon League’s preseason Player of the Year, who scored on 25 points and had little problem getting points close to the basket.
“She takes 31 percent of their shots,” Kest said of Demmings. “Our goal was to keep her in the 30 percent or less. We did not keep her in the 30s. If we had kept her in the 30s it would be a different story. She’s a creator. She’s a good point guard. We needed to do a good job of shutting down those other kids and I don’t think we did [that].”
But the Raiders did their job. Overall, the Zips shot just 38 percent and were outrebounded 41-35. The Raiders made 11-of-31 3-point shots for 36 percent. More importantly, they harassed Tecca for much of the game.
“Rachel just missed shots,” Kest said.
She had plenty of help in doing so. Every time she touched the ball, two Wright State defenders were there.
Still, the Zips had their share of chances to put this one in the win column. They broke out to an eight-point lead with 8:32 left in the first half before the Raiders went on a 22-5 run to take a 40-31 halftime lead.
The Raiders eventually built their lead to 11 points before the Zips, who’d been on the road in four of their past five games, awakened. They battled to within striking distance at 59-57 and fought until they took a 69-68 lead with 1:49 left courtesy of a layup by Sina King (six points, nine rebounds).
After two free throws put the Raiders ahead 70-69 with 1:01 to go, the Zips had a shot to take the lead, but point guard Kacie Cassell came up short on a layup. Moments later, after officials called King for a blocking foul that could have just as easily gone the other way, the Raiders grabbed a three-point lead, setting the stage for the dramatic ending.
Kest refused to place blame with any one player.
“There were too many defensive breakdowns and we just made a lot of mental mistakes as well as physical mistakes,” she said. “At the end of the day it’s never about one possession. There are so many opportunities we had to win the game.”
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.