GAFFNEY, S.C. - Redshirt-junior Amaura Brandt (Aiken, S.C.) drilled two clutch three-pointers in the final minute and finished with a game-high 23 points to lead the nationally second-ranked Limestone College (30-0) women's basketball team to a third straight Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship with a 56-53 win over King University (19-12) on Friday, March 4 at the Timken Center.
The win guarantees that the Saints will appear in a fifth consecutive NCAA Division II Tournament as they collected the conference's automatic bid. Limestone, who will be defending its back-to-back Southeast Regional Championships, will find out if it will get to host the regional tourney for a second straight year.
Brandt, the national leader in three-point percentage, finished 7-of-14 from behind the arc while junior Jasmine Kearse (St. Augustine, Fla.) added 12 points, six rebounds and six assists. Senior guard Maurissa Lester (Marietta, Ga.) recorded eight points, eight rebounds and four steals.
The trio was named to the Conference Carolinas All-Tournament Team with Kearse earning the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.
Junior forward Amber Wright (Knightdale, N.C.) pulled down nine rebounds to go with four points while senior guard Victoria Marshall (Columbia, N.C.) recorded five points, four boards and four assists in the title game.
Trailing 44-42 early in the fourth quarter, a big bucket from downtown by Marshall highlighted a 7-0 run as Limestone grabbed a 49-44 lead with 5:58 remaining. Brandt went 2-of-3 from the free throw line during the stretch before Wright's layup staked the Saints to a 5-point cushion.
King refused to back down, however, and looked primed to shock the basketball world as a three-pointer by Whitney Mitchell capped a 9-0 spurt to put the visitors back in front 53-49 with 1:05 left on the clock.
On the very next possession for Limestone, Brandt connected from deep with 53 ticks remaining to cut the margin to one for the Blue and Gold. Following a defensive stand, Brandt let another long range bomb fly from the top of the key and found nothing but nylon as the home crowd erupted into a frenzy.
The Saints once again stood strong on defense, forcing King to turn the ball over with 18 seconds left in the game. Limestone would then go 1-of-2 at the free throw line to make it a 56-53 ballgame, and then Lester sealed the win by ripping down a rebound with two seconds left following a desperation shot.
The Tornado did not seem to be intimidated playing in their first Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship Game as they pushed out to an 18-15 lead at the end of the first quarter. Kearse hit a pair of the three's in the opening stanza, but the Saints shot just 5-for-15 as a team over the first 10 minutes.
A layup by junior forward Peyton Bockholt (La Porte City, Iowa) and a long range bomb by Brandt highlighted an 8-3 run for the Blue and Gold to open up the second, putting the home team in front 22-21, but King countered with four straight points to retake a three-point lead with 7:29 left in the half.
Limestone took over defensively at that point, holding King scoreless over the remainder of the period. The Tornado went 0-for-10 from the field during that stretch while the Saints hit a trio of three-pointers on the other end - one by Kearse and two from Brandt - to take a 31-25 lead at the break.
A midrange jumper by Ashley Albertson snapped the drought on King's opening possession of the third quarter and sparked an 11-3 run over the first six minutes of frame as the visitors retook the lead, 36-34.
Albertson and Sheena Johnson both added three-pointers during the stretch.
Brandt then drilled her fifth triple of the night as the Saints closed out the third with an 8-3 spurt to make it a 42-39 game in favor of the home team. The Tornado once again had an answer on the other as Mitchell scored five straight points as the lead changed hand for the ninth time.
Limestone finished 19-of-64 (30%) from the floor and had only seven field goals inside the three-point line as it went 12-of-40 (30%) from deep The Saints controlled the boards, 51-45, and held King to a 21-of-68 clip from the field, including an 8-for-27 showing from downtown.
Sophomore Aaliyah Davis (Fayetteville, Ga.) collected seven rebounds and swatted two shots while Bockholt finished with three points, four rebounds and three blocks.
Albertson posted a double-double for the Tornado, recording a team-high 18 points to go with 13 rebounds while Johnson just missed a double-double with eight points and 10 boards. Mitchell added 15 points for King.
The Saints will find out their first round opponent in the national championship tournament on Sunday when the NCAA releases the field of 64. The NCAA Selection Show will air live on www.NCAA.com at 10 p.m. on Sunday, March 6.