GORHAM – None of the shots Megan Myles missed Saturday night were as important as the one she didn’t let Bowdoin College take.

With the University of Southern Maine leading by a point, Myles stepped far enough away from Justine Pouravelis’ shadow to intercept Katie Cummings’ pitch to the low post with five seconds remaining in regulation.

Promptly fouled, Myles swished two free throws to put the finishing touches on a 56-53 victory and send the Huskies to the NCAA Division III Final Four for the second straight year.

Ashley Marble scored 25 points and corralled 12 rebounds to lead USM (31-1) to a national semifinal game Friday in Springfield, Mass., against the winner of Saturday’s late game between Randolph-Macon and Hardin-Simmons.

Bowdoin held Myles to six points on 1-for-11 shooting, but the Auburn senior’s theft applied the exclamation point to a brilliant second-half defensive performance by the Huskies.

“I was just thinking that this wasn’t going to be my last night playing basketball,” Myles said. “I didn’t play that well all game. I wasn’t going to let Bowdoin end my career.”

Junior Eileen Flaherty, one of two logical targets for Cummings’ penetration-and-pitch, capped a sensational tournament with 19 points for Bowdoin (27-3). Pouravelis added 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Vanessa Russell’s last-ditch bid to tie from 30 feet rattled long off the back of the rim.

Two of the top five teams in the nation thrilled a sold-out crowd of 2,045 at Hill Gymnasium with 14 lead changes. Meeting for the third time in four years in the NCAA sectionals, the geographic rivals bombed away in the first half and engaged in a furious defensive chess match after the break.

“The atmosphere was just unbelievable, two nights in a row,” said USM coach Gary Fifield. “You couldn’t have asked for a more unbelievable game. It’s great for women’s basketball in Maine to have that kind of atmosphere.”

Bowdoin went 6-for-30 from the field in the second half, and still the Polar Bears regained the lead twice in the final 2:31.

Pouravelis’ inside bucket made it 51-50. Katie Sibley answered with a drive for Southern Maine, but Flaherty redirected her own miss and put Bowdoin on top with 1:43 to go.

But the damage was done earlier when Bowdoin went more than nine minutes without a field goal. The Polar Bears survived a previous drought exceeding seven minutes to lead 36-33 at the half.

“We just couldn’t score in the second half. I think that’s what it boiled down to,” said Bowdoin coach Stephanie Pemper. “It wasn’t a question of who wanted it more, or who made smarter plays. (USM was) just able to convert more.”

Undaunted by the threat of picking up her fifth foul, Marble cashed in as a result of her sixth offensive rebound of the night to retrieve the lead for good.

Bowdoin’s interior defense rushed Myles into a miss from the baseline. Marble won the battle for the weak side rebound, and there was no call on the ensuing collision as the All-America finalist delivered high off the window.

“I was afraid they were going to call an offensive foul and I was done,” Marble said.

Three officials consistently allowed two aggressive teams to do their thing. That clemency helped Bowdoin log 18 offensive rebounds while allowing Myles and Shannon Kynoch to swat three shots apiece.

USM struggled mightily from the floor throughout most of the second half, also, going 5-for-22.

“Hallelujah that women are blocking shots and refs aren’t calling anything,” Pemper said. “That’s a sign that the game has progressed. It’s tough when both teams are stuck on 41 (points) for a long time like we were for one team to break out of it.”

Southern Maine’s point total was its lowest of the season, five fewer than Salem State allowed in the Huskies’ lone loss on Dec. 17.

Early on, however, offense reigned. USM surged to a 7-1 lead. Bowdoin responded by draining eight straight shots, including two 3-pointers by Julia Loonin and one each by Cummings and Flaherty, on its way to a 21-14 advantage.

Cummings and Flaherty each nailed another 3-pointer late in the half. Coupled with the low-post dominion of Pouravelis, Flaherty and freshman Jill Anelauskas, those connections pushed the Polar Bears to the three-point halftime advantage.

“They are a lot bigger than us,” said senior tri-captain Donna Cowing, who added five points and nine rebounds for the Huskies. “They definitely had the advantage over us on the offensive boards in the first half. We knew we needed to buckle down and that it could be make-or-break for us.”

USM fought its way to a virtual stalemate on the boards (Bowdoin enjoyed a 38-36 edge). And perhaps more importantly, the Huskies forced Bowdoin into missing all 12 of their 3-point bids in the second half.

“I just think they knew all our tendencies,” Pouravelis said. “They put a hand on almost all our shots in the second half.”

The Huskies matched the program record for wins in a single season, set last year, when USM finished third in the nation. Southern Maine lost the national title game in 1998 and 2000.

“I’m just thankful I was in the right spot and that we’re going on,” Myles said.

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