The Rhode Island College women’s basketball team had their sights set on the program’s first-ever national championship, but saw that dream vanish after being upset by the Emmanuel College Saints, 57-52, in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Division III Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Anchorwomen, making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985, trailed 53-52, with 28 seconds and possession of the ball after a key steal by sophomore guard Stephanie Prusko. Senior forward Rachel Riley, who played a team-high 37 minutes and finished with 15 points, threaded a pass to junior forward Courtney Burns under the basket with 12 seconds left. Burns, who was double-teamed on the play, traveled and the Anchorwomen turned the ball over.
Needing a steal on the ensuing Emmanuel inbounds pass, RIC senior guard Cynthia Gaudet, who scored a team-high 21 points in the final game of her career, appeared to have a clean steal when a whistle blew the play dead. A stunned Gaudet looked around for a foul as the Murray Center crowd erupted. The whistle came from official Leslie Boucher, who raced in from the far sideline signaling timeout, RIC.
Head coach Marcus Reilly had called a timeout from the sideline just before Emmanuel could inbound the ball. After the timeout, the Anchorwomen were unable to come up with a steal as the Saints drove the length of the court and scored to make it 55-52 with five seconds left. The Saints stole the ensuing inbounds pass to seal the Anchorwomen’s fate. The Saints, who defeated the Anchorwomen, 81-73, on Dec. 1, accounted for two of RIC’s four losses on the year including their only loss (14-1) at home in the Murray Center this season.
“As they get further away from the season the team will truly understand everything they accomplished. It is something they will never forget,” said Reilly. “The team took it seriously raising this program and rewrote the RIC women’s basketball program in the process.”
The Anchorwomen, led by Riley, Gaudet and senior guard Stephanie Coro enjoyed the most successful season in program history, establishing program records for wins (25), winning percentage (.862) and Little East Conference victories (13). The Anchorwomen also captured the programs first-ever Little East Conference regular season and tournament championships.
Coming off a dominating 69-54 victory in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament over Baruch College, the Anchorwomen were poised to advance to the Sweet 16 facing the Saints on their home court where they were undefeated all season.
The Saints built a lead up half way through the first half 18-11 thanks to a layup from senior guard Breanna Ockimey layup before RIC got the lead back, 27-26, off a Riley layup with just over two minutes to go. Gaudet carried the Anchorwomen for the remainder of the half, hitting five free throws, to give the home team a 32-31 halftime advantage.
The visitors came out firing on offense and defense once the second half began. Emmanuel out-rebound RIC 14-2 in the opening 3:46 of the second half and emerged from that stretch with a 39-32 lead. RIC came back and with 13:32 remaining, Cynthia Gaudet hit a three to put RIC ahead 42-41. “During that period of time, Emmanuel was more aggressive on the glass, and got to the foul line,” said Reilly. “However our initial defense remained strong and battled back.”
The offenses cooled down significantly towards the end of the game. With the shot clock running down and 7:12 left, junior guard Chenae Earle, was the answer. Earle, the Saints backup point guard, who made one 3-pointer all season, nailed in a dagger trifecta from behind the arc to put Emmanuel back up 50-48.
Gaudet put the Anchorwomen back up 52-51 with 3:08 to go on a driving layup. Burns earned a pair of free throws with 2:29 to play but couldn’t connect on either. They proved to be a pair of costly misses. On the ensuing Emmanuel possession, junior forward Laura Benvenuto charged the right side of the basket and put up a runner over two outstretched Anchorwomen for a remarkable basket to give the Saints a 53-52 lead.
A Coro 3-pointer with 1:24 left went in and out of the basket and Emmanuel took over possession. Coro struggled mightily in the final game of her career as she was held to just three points on 1-of-12 shooting including a 1-for-10 mark from 3-point range. Coro averaged 11 points per game during the regular season.
The Saints worked the shot clock down and Ockimey fired away on a three. It was too long and Ockimey got the bounce back rebound to set up another play. Junior forward Fiona O’Dwyer missed a jumper and with 0:36 left but Earle picked up the loose ball, Emmanuel’s 22nd offensive rebound of the day. “Our defense creates a lot of missed shots because of our level of play,” said Reilly. “Emmanuel took advantage on the glass and you have to credit them for our limited shots.”
RIC forced 21 turnovers and held Emmanuel to 31 percent (20-for-64) shooting from the field but had an immense size disadvantage and were outrebounded 57-39 by the Saints.
Emmanuel freshmen forward Lena Negri came off the bench to play a team-high 33 minutes, finishing with four points and 16 boards.
RIC shot just 27 percent (17-for-61) from the field and just 4-for-21 from 3-point range.
With the loss, the incredible careers of the most storied senior class (Riley, Gaudet, Coro, Nicole Girard and Brittany Saccoccio) in program history come to a close. Riley became just the third player in program history to record 1,000 points and rebounds for her career. Coro, also a member of the 1,000 point club served as the team’s offensive catalyst with her deadly 3-point shooting throughout her career. Gaudet transferred to RIC for her senior season and rewarded the Anchorwomen with a team-high 16 points per game as the team’s starting point guard. Girard, a transfer from the Community College of Rhode Island was named the team’s MVP as a junior and provided stability at the guard spots as a senior. Saccoccio, the smallest player on the roster, provided tenacious defense and served as a valuable role player off the bench for the Anchorwomen throughout her career.
-With additional reporting by Editor-in-Chief George Bissell.