Entering today’s game, No. 4 seed Briar Cliff University (22-9) and No. 5 seed St. Ambrose (22-9) were in very similar places. Both teams were coming off embarrassing conference tournament championship game losses — Briar Cliff at the hands of defending national champion Morningside College 97-68 and St. Ambrose at the hands of No. 1 seed Olivet Nazarene 124-100 — and both needed a victory to keep their season alive.
Briar Cliff kept their all-time first round tournament record flawless and defeated St. Ambrose 75-63 in front of a hometown crowd at the Tyson Event Center in Sioux City, IA. The win lifted a bit of pressure off the Chargers, who made it to the semifinals last season.
“We’ve felt a lot of pressure to win this game, because we’ve never lost a first round game, so that was big for us,” Kaylee Blake said. “But the next goal is the next game. Obviously we want to be in that championship, but our focus is tomorrow.”
The Chargers were led by senior Jessi Corrick, who finished with 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting. The Chargers also received big contributions from Morgan Hansen and Kaylee Blake, who finished with 14 and 19 points, respectively. Brette Logic and Lindsay Smith led the Fighting Bees with 12 and 10 points apiece.
Both Briar Cliff and St. Ambrose posed interesting mismatches for each other, considering Briar Cliff prefers playing high pressure defense and working from the inside-out on offense, whereas St. Ambrose ranks 1st in the country in three-point field goal percentage (38%) and 16th in the country in three-point field goals made (247) and three-point field goals made per game (8).
Briar Cliff got it going on both ends early in the first half. The Chargers shot 48% from the floor on 14 of 29 shooting on 10 assists. They also held St. Ambrose below 35% on both field goal and three-point percentage, while forcing 13 turnovers, ten of which were steals..
Blake got it going early for the Chargers, scoring four points in the first minute of the game. to give Briar Cliff the early lead. St. Ambrose’s Reann McCarty, who scored six first half points, got a couple of early shots to fall, but the Fighting Bees fell victim to a 12-2 Briar Cliff run to the end of first quarter and found themselves down 10.
Erin Grimshaw knocked down a three-pointer to start the quarter, before Corrick made a pair of layups to put the Chargers up 32-17. Sydney Greiner knocked down a three-pointer for St. Ambrose to cut the lead to eight midway through the quarter. But Corrick made two quick shots to increase the Briar Cliff lead back to 10.
St. Ambrose knocked down a jumper followed by a pair of free throws, then traded free throws with Briar Cliff to make it 39-34 at halftime.
Briar Cliff kept the offensive pressure up, but St. Ambrose answered. Logic knocked down a jumper late in the third to cut the Charger lead to seven. Devan Griffin finished a layup and St. Ambrose was down just five heading into the fourth.
Logic converted a reverse layup two minutes into the fourth, but Blake knocked down two straight shots to stretch the lead back to eight. Hansen and Erin Grimshaw made baskets on back-to-back possessions and the Charger lead was back to double-digits. Corrick knocked down a three pointer and Blake converted a reverse layup, to put the game out of reach.
Briar Cliff Head Coach Mike Power credited his team’s, and in particular Jessi Corrick’s toughness, as a reason for their success this season.
“We’re always preaching that we have to be tougher. We’re tough on them, we get on them and coach them hard,” he said. “Jessi Corrick is as tough as they come…and she’s starting to rub off on other kids.”
Briar Cliff moves on to play the winner of No. 1 seed Southern Oregon vs. No. 8 seed Clarke (Iowa) at 5:15 p.m. on Friday.