No matter where they came from in the second half of Saturday’s USCAA Division II national championship game, Central Maine Community College’s shots refused to fall.

The top-seeded Mustangs went ice cold at precisely the wrong time and couldn’t counter No. 2 Cincinnati-Clermont’s second-half surge, falling 69-51 in the program’s first national title game, in Uniontown, Pa.

CMCC (28-3) shot just 20.6 percent (7-for-34), including 2-for-15 from the 3-point arc, in the second half and saw a six-point lead quickly melt away with a 23-5 Cougars run. The Mustangs’ rare trips to the free-throw line (1-for-8) didn’t stem the tide.

“They took us out of our game,” CMCC coach Andrew Morong said. “It was just one of those days. Against someone else we still find a way to win. But they’re so tough.”

“We decided to pack our zone,” Cincinnati-Clermont coach Michael Matthews said. “They’re good one-on-one and obviously our man (defense) wasn’t got o be adequate enough. We played a general zone before, and that wasn’t working, either. So our change was to pack the zone and make them beat us from the outside.”

Susie French, who made the all-tournament team, was the only Mustang to reach double figures with 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and five steals. Gabby Foy added seven points. Tournament MVP Stacie Lee led the Cougars (22-9) with 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Back-to-back hoops by French, the second a 3-pointer, put the Mustangs up, 39-33, early in the second half.

Cincinnati-Clermont responded with a 10-0 run as Ashley Keith and Lee sandwiched hoops around a pair of Dana Finney 3-pointers. Maggie McConkey’s 3-pointer pulled the Mustangs with 43-42 with 14:49 left, but they missed their next eight shots in a row as the Cougars ripped off eight consecutive points to take a 51-42 lead with 11:20 left.

“We just needed to calm down,” Finney said. “We were way spastic in the first half and nervous. In the locker room, I think we just kind of chilled ourselves out.”

The Mustangs’ chilly shooting temporarily subsided when McConkey hit a jumper to pull within seven. But before they scored again, Cincinnati-Clermont pushed the lead into double digits on a pair of buckets by Keith (18 points, seven rebounds, six assists).

“We controlled the tempo a little bit better in the first half and they took that away from us in the second half,” Morong said. “They were throwing everything in for a while. There’s not much you’re going to do when they’re shooting 57 percent in the half and you’re shooting 20 percent.”

CMCC tried to rally as Hannah Champagne, French and Foy started to find the range in the final eight minutes. But the Cougars, mainly Lee and Keith, always had an answer and pulled away.

Despite being off the mark from 3-point land (2-for-13), CMCC shot a healthy 46 percent from the floor overall in the first half. Foy made the first of those 3-pointers to give the Mustangs a 5-4 lead. Laura Soohey put the Mustangs in front for the remainder of the first half with a jumper that made it 9-8 with 14:43 left in the half.

Lexi Larson and Jasmine Ramos gave the Mustangs a boost off the bench in the first half. Larson’s layup gave the Mustangs their largest lead of the first half at 32-24 with 2:42 left. But layups by Lee and Finney and a 3-pointer by Tess Jenike helped the Cougars narrow the margin to 34-31 by halftime and set up their second-half blitz.

“It’s been an absolutely amazing season of firsts,” said Morong, whose team picked up its first two national tournament wins ever this week. “We worked so hard for over five months. I couldn’t be more proud of this group of young women. The only other college’s in Maine to make a basketball championship game are Bowdoin and the University of Southern Maine. That’s pretty good company to be in and these girls should be proud of what they accomplished.”


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