Defense sparks Siena win over Mercer in WBI semifinal

Siena rallies to beat Mercer, advance to WBI title game.
Margo Hetzke of Siena and Alex Williams of Mercer go after the loose ball Wednesday, March 25, 2015.Kollyns Scarbrough
Margo Hetzke of Siena and Alex Williams of Mercer go after the loose ball Wednesday, March 25, 2015.Kollyns Scarbrough

Siena may not have the fastest feet in women’s basketball, but the Saints’ hands were more than quick enough to get the job done defensively Wednesday night.

Albany High product Emia Willingham came off the bench to record four steals, and senior Tehresa Coles, from Colonie, added four more thefts to help Siena rally past Mercer, 65-54, in the semifinals of the Women’s Basketball Invitational before a crowd of 1,103 at the Alumni Recreation Center.

The 22-12 Saints will play for the WBI championship Sunday against the winner of tonight’s Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Oral Roberts semifinal. If Oral Roberts wins, the Saints will host the title game at the ARC at 2 p.m. Otherwise, Siena heads for Lafayette.

Although the Saints didn’t shoot well (37 percent overall and just 1-for-11 from beyond the arc), they held the 20-15 Bears to just 35.7 percent in the second half. Siena outscored Mercer, 38-14, in the paint, and the Saints’ two bench players, Willingham (12 points) and Symone Kelly (14) outscored Mercer’s bench, 26-10. Siena also made 24 of 31 shots from the line.

“It’s a great day to be a Saint,” said Siena head coach Ali Jaques, whose team posted its first winning season in 11 years. “I am so lucky to be coaching this group. They are so committed to each other. Even though we had trouble scoring inside early, we also stayed committed to staying on the block offensively.

“Mercer is a very good team, and we had our work cut out for us. What separated us was our defensive intensity and focus. Also, our bench came in and did some great things.”

Siena’s top three scorers, Margot Hetzke, Coles and Meghan Donohue, combined for just 25 points, but the other four Saints on the seven-player roster stepped up, especially Kelly, who made six of seven free-throw attempts, and Willingham, who not only sparked the team’s defense, but grabbed nine rebounds.

“After we got into a rhythm, we were OK,” said Willingham.

“This is just amazing,” said Coles. “It’s a perfect ending. So many good things have happened to us this season.”

Mercer nailed four of its five three-pointers in the first half to open up a nine-point lead before settling for a 27-24 halftime advantage.

Scoreless in the first half, Coles hit a three-pointer with 13:15 left to tie the score at 37-37, and Kelly gave the Saints their first lead of the game on a layup after Willingham stole the ball and found her with a perfect lead pass.

Coles added six more free throws late in the second half, including a pair with 4:03 to go when she took a hard foul on a breakaway. No flagrant foul was called, but as it turned out, the Saints didn’t need the added possession. They led by as many as 12 (65-53).

“We have a chance to win our final game of the season. Only three teams have that chance,” said Jaques, referring to the winners of the NCAA, WNIT and WBI tournaments.

“Tehresa’s and Emia’s steals show how much focus they have on defense. Sometimes, they gamble, but when you have two lock-down defenders who can play in tandem, I can sleep better at night. We had the size advantage, but not the speed advantage today. Still, we had great energy on defense.”


Ali. Williams 6-12 1-2 15, Ale. Williams 1-5 0-0 2, Robinson 2-5 0-0 4, Lawrence 2-10 0-0 4, Bridges 6-15 5-8 19, B. Williams 4-6 0-0 9, Broadway 0-1 0-0 0, Means 0-0 1-2 1, Potts 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 21-55 7-12 54.

SIENA (65)

Hetzke 3-8 1-1 7, Donohue 4-10 1-4 9, Krogh 2-13 4-6 8, Scarbrough 1-3 4-4 6, Coles 1-6 6-6 9, Willingham 5-8 2-3 12, Kelly 4-6 6-7 14. Totals: 20-54 24-31 65.

Halftime: Mercer, 27-24. Three-point goals: Mercer 5-12 (Ali. Williams 2-4, Lawrence 0-1, Bridges 2-4, B. Williams 1-2, Potts 0-1); Siena 1-11 (Hetzke 0-3, Krogh 0-3, Scarbrough 0-1, Coles 1-4). Rebounds: Mercer 34 (Robinson 9), Siena 39 (Willingham 9). Assists: Mercer 13 (Bridges 4), Siena 10 (Kelly 3). Total fouls: Mercer 22, Siena 13. Fouled out: Ale. Williams, Robinson, Lawrence. Officials: Albert Titus III, Joanne Aldrich, John Palermo. Attendance: 1,183.

Categories: College Sports

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