By James Bailey, Staff Writer
The St. John Fisher College women’s basketball team fell short in their bid to win the Empire 8 Tournament, losing 52-47 to Stevens on Feb. 24
The loss snaps a 14 game winning streak for Fisher (21-6). Stevens (15-12) captured their second Empire 8 title in the last three years as well as the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Fisher will now wait anxiously to see if their name is called on Feb. 26 as one of the tournament’s at-large teams.
Stevens came into Saturday hot following their 64-62 upset of Sage on Feb. 23. The Ducks blitzed the Cardinals early and held an eight point lead, 18-10, after the first quarter led by senior Megan Brown’s eight points. That momentum would continue into the second quarter as Stevens held Fisher to 21 percent shooting in the first half. The Ducks led 31-18 at the halftime break.
“I think our defense and rebounding weren’t where they needed to be in the first half and I think it showed,” said Fisher head coach Melissa Kuberka, who coached her first Empire 8 title game.
The Cardinals managed to cut the Duck lead to nine by the end of the third quarter and made their push in the fourth. Fisher held Stevens to only two made field goals in the entire fourth quarter. Down five with under two minutes to play, Fisher leaned on their veteran leaders. Caroline Robertson and Erin Hulbert forced turnovers on back to back possessions and Nicole Robinson capitalized on both, hitting back to back buckets to pull Fisher to within one, 48-47 with 53 seconds to play.
“Towards the end of the game we found momentum,” said Robinson. “We didn’t have the chemistry that we should have had (in the first half). But as soon as we came out for our last 20 minutes we stepped up and that’s what won us all of our games.”
Following a pair of Brown free throws, Fisher had the ball down three with under 30 seconds to play. The Cardinals had three looks at the basket and missed all three including a pair of three point attempts by Olivia Baumann and Chelsea Repard. Christina Li secured the rebound off the Repard miss and hit two free throws to ice the game and the championship for Stevens.
Brown finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP). The senior pair of Robertson and Robinson each finished with 13 points apiece for Fisher, but on 4-17 and 6-18 shooting respectively.
“We talked about it before the game that they were going to have to take away our inside presence and they forced us to shoot on the perimeter and unfortunately we gave into that early and started chucking and our shots weren’t falling,” said Kuberka.
Fisher came into Saturday’s game having defeated Steven twice previously on the season including a 33 point blowout win, 74-41 on Feb. 3. Stevens last defeated Fisher in the 2017 Empire 8 Tournament semifinals 62-58.
For Kuberka and the Cardinals, waiting will be the hardest part moving forward. Fisher’s rookie head coach would be the first coach in program history to take the Cardinals to the NCAA Tournament in their first year at the helm should the Cardinals secure and at-large.
“We just talked that this is the first time that our destiny is not in our control,” said Kuberka. “Someone else is controlling it. We’ve won 18 of our last 20 games. I don’t know if they’ll take that into consideration, but I know the group that we have is pretty special.”