Liz Flowers' 3-point play snapped an 85-85 tie with 1:17 remaining in the second overtime period and the No. 2-seeded West Liberty women survived an upset bid by No. 7 seed Shepherd with an 88-87 quarterfinal win Wednesday in West Virginia Conference tournament action at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.
The Hilltoppers (21-7) advance to Friday's 1 p.m. semifinal against No. 3 seed Fairmont State (21-9). The Falcons coasted past No. 11 seed West Virginia Wesleyan, 65-54, in Wednesday's late quarterfinal.
"I've coached nearly 700 games," West Liberty head coach Lynn Ullom said, "and this is one of the greatest comebacks I've ever been associated with. When we were down by 4 or 5 points late in regulation and again at the end of the first overtime, a lot of teams would have packed it in but our girls never did."
Senior Emily Daniel, who had a career day for the Rams (14-14) with 25 points and 20 rebounds, forged the game's 19th and final tie, 85-85, with 1:39 left in the second overtime. With leading scorers Hillary Southworth and Meghan Wiseman already having fouled out, the Hilltoppers needed somebody to make a play.
Flowers, a mere freshman, answered the call. After running the shot clock down into single digits she beat Rachel Johnson off the dribble and laid in a left-handed lay up while drawing Johnson's fifth foul with 1:17 to play. The free throw gave West Liberty its largest lead since the 6-minute mark in regulation.
The Hilltoppers came up with a huge defensive stop at the other end of the court but couldn't convert after running nearly all the time off the shot clock on the ensuing possession. A basket by Shepherd's Alex Weakland cut the lead to 88-87 with 9.4 seconds left and the Rams called timeout, hoping to stop the clock with a quick foul and give themselves one last chance to pull out a win.
It never happened. After the in-bounds, the Hilltoppers whipped the ball around with such a dazzling series of sharp passes that Shepherd couldn't get close enough to foul before the final buzzer put an exclamation point on one of West Liberty's more improbable victories in recent years.
"We definitely faced some adversity today," Ullom said. "We were getting killed on the boards and lost a couple of our veteran leaders to fouls, but we had several youngsters really step up and hit some big shots. This was a great team win."
The Hilltoppers trailed 68-64 with less than 30 seconds left in regulation but freshman Jasmin Kiley drained a clutch 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go and Flowers erased a 69-67 Ram advantage with a pair of late free throws to send the game into overtime.
Things looked especially dim for WLU when Southworth exited with her fifth foul as Shepherd took a 76-71 lead into the final minute of the first extra period. Kiley drained a pair of free throws and then added two more after West Liberty's full-court press forced a Ram turnover, cutting the lead to 76-75 with 38 seconds to go.
The Hilltoppers' press poked the ball loose again in the backcourt. Kiley pulled the ball out of a mob of players and fired it under the basket to a wide-open Emily Blevins for a 77-76 West Liberty lead with 30 seconds left. Shepherd's Priscilla Moseh then went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe to force the deciding overtime.
Southworth led all scorers with 27 points before fouling out with 1:05 to play in the first overtime and Wiseman had 14 points before leaving with 2:25 to go in regulation.
In their absence, Flowers took up the scoring slack. The talented freshman played 49 of the 50 minutes and filled nearly every line on her stat sheet, finishing with a career-high 21 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Kiley, another freshman, scored all 11 of her points in the final 24 seconds of regulation and overtime.
Moseh backed Daniel with 20 points and 7 rebounds while Shepherd posts Gabby Flinchum and Jimyse Brown worked the paint for a combined 22 points and 11 rebounds.
Shepherd claimed a whopping 62-37 rebounding advantage – with 31 of their rebounds coming off the offensive glass – but the Hilltoppers were able to neutralize that edge by forcing the Rams into 25 turnovers, including several crucial miscues in the waning minutes of regulation and overtime.
WVIAC TOURNEY NOTES
X The Lady Hilltoppers are 107-27 (.799) in February games since the 2001 season
X Ullom is 48-16 (.750) in WVIAC Tournament action, including a 17-4 mark in the quarterfinals
X Southworth, the nation's second-leading scorer (24.1 ppg.), has scored 114 points in four career games against Shepherd
X The Rams' 62 rebounds were the most by a Hilltopper opponent since OU Eastern grabbed 64 boards – including 42 offensive rebounds – in a 97-63 West Liberty win on Jan. 8, 2000
X The Hilltoppers have a 12-4 record in WVIAC Tournament semifinal action under Ullom