ADA — The Ohio Northern University women’s basketball team has made consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament the past two seasons.
Heading into this season, the Polar Bears were minus three starters from last year’s 23-6 squad (14-4 Ohio Athletic Conference) and were looking to continue their winning ways.
So far, it’s been a good start for ONU.
In Saturday’s OAC game with visiting John Carroll, ONU scrapped and fought its way back in the second half for a thrilling 73-70 victory over the Blue Streaks at the ONU Sports Center.
With the win, ONU improves to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in the OAC. John Carroll slips to 6-1, 1-1.
ONU’s only lead in the first half was 2-0, off the opening tip-off.
The Polar Bears did not record its next lead until 4:09 left to play in the game, on a put back by Jordan Kimes, giving ONU a 59-58 advantage.
After getting down 33-30 by the break, the Polar Bears cut the deficit to one point six times in the second half. John Carroll’s largest lead in the final 20 minutes of action was 56-46 at the 8:35 mark.
“I thought we just kept fighting,” ONU coach Michele Durand said. “Going down 10 (points) was a little concerning, but we just kept fighting. We just needed to get some stops and take care of the ball. When we didn’t turn it over, we had some good possessions and got pretty good shots.”
Kimes led all scorers with 18 points. The 6-foot, 1-inch senior post player also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds and had two blocks for ONU.
Three other players scored in double figures for ONU. Brooke Espenschied scored 15 points, including 4-of-4 shooting from the free throw line. Karissa Steffas scored 10 points and had six boards. Carly Thomas added 10 points and dished out a team-high five assists. Britt Lauck (Shawnee) scored six points and had four assists in the winning effort for the Polar Bears.
John Carroll was balanced with five players scoring in double figures. Katlyn Spahar led the Blue Streaks with 16 points. Katie Battaglia scored 15 points. Teammates Meghan Weber, Emily Taylor and Beth Switzler each added 10.
In the first half, ONU fell behind by eight points on four occasions. By the break, the Polar Bears cut it to three, 33-30.
In the second half, ONU kept it close for the most part. After falling behind by 10 points at the 8:35 mark, the Polar Bears went on a 13-2 run, taking the one-point lead with 4:09 left to play.
“In the second half, we knew we had to pick up the intensity,” Kimes said. “We had to take care of the ball and play better defense. We just had to come together as a team, because we had some negative things happen in the first half. We had to turn it up a little bit (in the second half).”
Kimes did exactly that, scoring 12 points in the second half and hitting three clutch free throws down the stretch.
Lauck, a sophomore, played 19 minutes on Saturday. The 5-7 sophomore guard made 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch.
“We just really pulled together at halftime,” Lauck said. “We’re still getting comfortable with each other. I think we’ve grown a little bit each game.”
Bath product Jenna Hollar (5-5, Frosh., guard) played 13 minutes on Saturday, running the point for ONU.
Hollar is starting to feeling comfortable, playing at the college level.
“It’s going great. I love this group of girls,” Hollar said. “I really think we’re starting to come together and I think it showed today.”
For the game, ONU shot 44 percent from the field, including 23-percent shooting from behind the arc. The Polar Bears shot 64 percent from the charity stripe.
John Carroll shot 44 percent from the floor and 85 percent at the free throw line.
Durand was relieved to get out with a win on Saturday.
“Any win in the conference is good. So, we’ll take it,” she said with a smile.