LAKELAND, Fla.—Adding to the cliché that defense wins championships is the Southeastern women’s basketball team.
The Fire (29-0) held St. Thomas to 23.5% from the field and 4-of-28 from 3-point range in a 75-41 win in The Sun Conference Tournament Championship game.
The win marked the third consecutive tournament title for Southeastern.
St. Thomas (21-9) was the aggressor early, scoring the first four points of the game as Southeastern struggled with a new lineup, compounded by two quick fouls by Emma Karamovic. The Fire made up for the early offensive shortcomings by locking down the Bobcats on the other end of the floor.
“We knew that if we stuck to our game plan and focused on our fundamentals, this was our game,” said Southeastern coach Tim Hays. “It took us a couple minutes, we adjusted, and got the job done.”
After taking a 4-0 lead, the next seven possessions for St. Thomas resulted in five missed shots and two turnovers. A Katie Rienas 3-pointer with 4:27 left in the first quarter gave STU a 7-5 lead.
Tournament MVP Ana Richter tied the game at seven with a jumper in the lane at the 3:28 mark, then split a pair of free throws with 2:55 left to give SEU the lead back for good.
Richter finished with 24 points, six rebounds, two assists, and three steals.
St. Thomas went the final 4:27 of the first without a field goal, running into foul problems of its own, which limited leading scorer Samara Auguste to six points, seven assists, and two steals in 17 minutes.
The Fire took advantage of the best Bobcat defender on the bench in the second quarter, picking up 28 points to hold a 44-22 lead at the break.
The defense went to another level in the third quarter, holding St. Thomas to just two points. A basket by Ebony Griffin with 9:38 left in the quarter was the lone tally of the period. The Bobcats were 1-for-16 as a team in the third quarter from the field and were 0-for-2 at the free throw line as the Fire led 63-24 to start the fourth.
“Biggest thing right now, is we want to be a lock-down defensive team,” said Hays. “First things first, we have to get the stops on defense to be successful.”
In the second half, Emma Karamovic had 10 of her 19 points, finishing 5-of-10 from long range. For a second consecutive night, Anissa Toumi added double-figures off the bench, scoring 14 points, and bringing in six rebounds to earn All-Tournament honors.
For St. Thomas, Katie Rienas had a team-best 13 points, and Chakari Merritt added 12 off the bench.
As a team, the Fire finished the night 50% from the field.
Both teams will advance to the NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship in Sioux City, Iowa March 7-13.