ADA — As commanding as Ohio Northern’s women began Thursday’s game against visiting Capital, it was virtually inconceivable at the time to think the Polar Bears wouldn’t be moving on to Saturday’s Ohio Athletic Conference tournament championship.
But a load of ONU turnovers and a strong finish pushed the Crusaders past the top-seeded Polar Bears 66-54 in the semifinal game. Capital travels to Baldwin Wallace for the OAC championship Saturday with the winner collecting an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championships.
Ohio Northern (20-6) began in complete control at both ends of the court, ripping off a 20-2 lead with 10:19 left in the first half. In that start, Capital made just 1-of-14 shots from the floor while ONU hit 9-of-18.
“We weren’t poised at all when we started,” Capital coach Dixie Jeffers said. “We actually wanted to play zone and force them to shoot outside and they came out and smacked us in the mouth.”
Capital switched back to its man-to-man defense the rest of the way and got going on offense, outscoring Ohio Northern 22-10 to cut the lead to 30-24 at halftime.
“We let them back into it,” ONU coach Michele Durand said. “We turned the ball over too much. We quit doing what we were doing to get the lead and then gave them some momentum.”
Ohio Northern turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and it only got worse in the second. The Polar Bears turned the ball over their first five possessions of the second half and Capital grabbed a 31-30 lead at the 17:08 mark.
For the game, ONU turned the ball over 23 times to Capital’s eight.
“Second half was the same, we just turned the ball over too much,” Durand said. “After a while your defense breaks down from that. You’ve got to be able to score.”
Ohio Northern seemed to wake up after the early struggles, scoring on 5-of-6 possessions with three 3-pointers to get back to a 43-37 lead with 13:14 remaining. However, the outside shooting gradually dried up and Capital’s defense made life very difficult for ONU standout senior center Jordan Kimes, who netted just six points in the second half.
Meanwhile, Capital began to score virtually every time down the floor while Ohio Northern struggled shooting and holding onto the ball.
“They did a great job on her,” Durand said. “Jordan’s our go-to girl and when you can’t go to her it’s tough. They played great defense, holding us to 54 points, and we’ve struggled offensively lately anyway.”
Kimes finished with 12 points and 10 boards while Amy Bullimore had 10 points and Karissa Steffas had eight points. Nina Napolitano and Simonne Gage each scored 16 points to lead four Capital players in double figures.
Both teams shot 40 percent from the field — ONU hit 20-of-50 field goals to Capital’s 23-of-57 — while the Polar Bears claimed an edge on rebounds, 39-33.
Despite the loss ending the 2014-15 campaign, Ohio Northern still finished as the regular season champions.
“We had a great season, we’re still regular season champions and that means a lot,” Durand said. “To play 18 games in this league and be 16-2, I’m really proud of them for that. It’s just hard right now, it’s hard.”