UNIONTOWN, Pa. — Central Maine Community College had to do something Saturday it rarely has had to do for the past two years — play from behind.
After rallying from 15 down in the fourth quarter to within one, the Mustangs’ surge fell short as Johnson & Wales-Charlotte toppled CMCC 75-64 in the USCAA Division II national title game.
“We got beat by a better team,” CMCC coach Andrew Morong said after the game. “They were really, really good, and it’s not so much that we played poorly, because we didn’t. They just played a great game. They were bigger, faster, stronger than us.”
The Mustangs (30-2) were bidding for a second consecutive title after winning the first in school history a year ago. But it was Johnson & Wales that stepped to the fore early Saturday, zipping out to a 23-13 lead in the first quarter.
“We kind of figured they were going to jump out,” Morong said. “It was about how well we could come back at them.”
CMCC tried to climb back into the contest in the second, but still saw its deficit grow to 13 by halftime, this as a normally sure-handed group of shooters went cold. As a team, the Mustangs shot just 37.3 percent from the field Saturday, including just 29.2 percent from 3-point range and 46.7 percent from the free throw line.
“A lot of that came from, we had to dig in so hard on defense and on the glass that it kind of took away our endurance a little bit,” Morong said. “We did hit shots later in the game to get back in it, though, and I was proud of the girls for digging in and pulling us back into it.”
Thirteen players got into the game for CMCC, but again uncharacteristically, only two players — Jane Lester and Kristen Huntress — hit double digits in scoring. Lester led the team with 16 and nine rebounds.
Johnson & Wales, meanwhile, had four double-digit scorers, including Chase Muhammad, who torched the Mustangs for 24 points, including a pair of clutch treys in the final quarter.
“Not only did they have height, but their players are strong and athletic,” Morong said. “They had a willingness to play physical on the inside, and that forced us to look for more from 3-point range.”
Ineesha Hankerson added 16 for the winning side, and hauled in a handful of key boards in the final frame.
With two top-2 finished in two years, though, Morong is far from discouraged.
“We don’t see a team like that all year, and probably haven;t since we played Bowdoin in an exhibition almost two years ago,” he said. “We need to work on our scheduling now so we can see more teams like this on a regular basis, so when we come back — not is, but when — we’re ready.”