WINONA LAKE – The Grace College women’s basketball team was on the verge of doing something no other team in the nation had done on Saturday – taking down undefeated St. Francis.
But a last-second 3-pointer from Gabby Bryant was off the mark, allowing the No. 1-ranked Cougars to escape the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center with a 66-63 victory.
Juaneice Jackson had 21 points, six steals, five rebounds and three assists to spearhead the Lady Lancers’ performance. Defensively, the Lady Lancers (13-13; 9-5 Crossroads League) forced the top-ranked Cougars into 22 turnovers. Grace’s trapping zone defense produced 15 steals, giving the Cougars (26-0; 14-0 CL) fits throughout the contest.
St. Francis held a slight cushion for much of the opening half, seizing a nine-point lead with two minutes remaining. But the Lady Lancers turned up the defensive heat in the final 90 seconds, producing three steals that led to three layups, including an and-one from Jackson. Grace’s last layup with nine seconds left cut St. Francis’s margin to 31-30 at halftime.
The Lady Lancers netted over half of their points (17 of 30) from Cougar turnovers before halftime.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair as the lead changed hands eight times.
Grace used a 7-0 spurt with six minutes on the clock to claim a 57-52 lead. St. Francis responded after a timeout with six unanswered points to retake the lead with 3:40 to play. Gabby Bryant sank two midrange jump shots in the final 2:30 to keep Grace in contention.
St. Francis was clinging to a one-point lead with 39 seconds to play, but Grace was unable to get the defensive stop it needed. Jennelle Wilson converted an old-fashioned 3-point play, lifting the Cougars to a four-point advantage with 20 seconds remaining.
Jackson made a quick layup to cut the margin to two, and St. Francis managed just 1-of-2 from the foul line to give Grace a chance.
Grace turned the ball with three seconds to play but somehow produced a steal of its own right after. Bryant, who made the steal, fired up a contested 3-pointer from the left corner, but her potential game-tying shot was off the mark.
Allison Kauffman tallied 16 points and six boards in defeat, and Bryant ended with eight points and two assists. Darian Patton chipped in six points and three assists, and Sarah Feasby tallied three points, six boards and two steals.
The Lady Lancers play two home games next week, hosting Marian on Wednesday night and Huntington on Saturday.