The St. Lawrence University women's basketball team is heading back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009, as the Saints held off William Smith, 51-48, in a back-and-forth battle for the Liberty League title and automatic national tournament bid. Junior Kelly Legg, who had a team-high 18 points, was named the Tournament's Most Valuable Player, while sophomore Allison Cady earned All-Tournament Team honors after a 14-point effort.
St. Lawrence will find out its NCAA destination and opponent on Monday after improving to 19-8 on the year. The Herons, who held a 20-19 halftime lead on Saturday, finish the 2013 season with a 17-10 mark.
"I am so proud of the way our team responded after a tough first half," said St. Lawrence head coach Dan Roiger, who will coach in the NCAA Tournament for the first time. "Everyone seemed to chip in down the stretch, either with key free throws, big baskets or solid rebounds. We were tested by an outstanding basketball team in William Smith, and hats off to their seniors who did a tremendous job this afternoon."
The Herons were led by senior Sydni Salvatore, who seemingly put her team's offense on her back at times en route to a 26-point effort on 8-of-16 shooting. Sasha Borenstein added 10 points for William Smith, while Jacqueline Murphy grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
In a game that featured 12 lead changes and eight ties, neither St. Lawrence nor William Smith led by more than four points the entire contest. Neither team was able to get much going in the first half, but both teams came out looking to earn the conference title in the second half.
The two teams exchanged baskets throughout the second period, and a jumper by junior co-captain Cassie St. Hilaire with 11:52 remaining gave St. Lawrence the lead, 33-32. Though William Smith kept within striking distance for the remainder of the game, and had several possessions with a chance to take the lead, the visitors simply couldn't convert when they needed the bucket.
Trailing 45-44 with under 2:00 minutes to play, William Smith opted to start fouling and sent Amanda Roberts to the free throw line for a 1-and-1. The rookie point guard knocked down both tries to extend the lead to three, but Salvatore answered with two points of her own. Kara McDuffee, who finished with six points, eight rebounds, six assists and six steals for St. Lawrence, would deliver four clutch free throws in the final seconds, keeping the Saints' three-point lead intact at 51-48 with :10 seconds left.
Though William Smith would get the ball to halfcourt and set up an offensive play, senior Jaimie Rubin's three point from well-outside the arc came up short and bounced out of bounds with 1.2 seconds remaining. The Saints inbounded the ball and the clock ran out, giving the Scarlet and Brown the 51-48 win and the NCAA Tournament berth.
It will be the 10th NCAA appearance for St. Lawrence coming off the program's sixth conference tournament title. The home team also improved to 4-2 all-time against William Smith in the conference championship game and finished the season unbeaten against Liberty League foes on its home floor.
The Herons owned a 43-34 advantage in rebounds and were solid defensively, but were done in by their struggles on the offensive end, shooting 31% (18-for-58) with 19 turnovers.
Following the game, the All-Tournament Team was recognized, including Legg, Cady, Salvatore, Vassar's Colleen O'Connell and Dani DeGregory of Skidmore. The Saints then took turns cutting down the net after receiving the Liberty League Championship trophy at center court.
As information becomes available on Monday regarding the 2013 NCAA Division III Women's Basketball Tournament, it will be posted to www.stlawu.edu/athletics.