ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) – KeKe Calloway scored 30 points and sophomore Shannon Titus scored all 12 of her points in the fourth quarter as top-seeded Mercer defeated second-seeded Furman 66-63 on Sunday to win its second consecutive Southern Conference championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
The Bears (25-7), in their fourth straight title game, didn’t secure the win until Le’Jzae Davidson’s second 3-point attempt in the final five seconds rattled out at the buzzer. The Paladins (19-13), who have lost 11 straight games against Mercer, were in their first title game since the 2000 championship team when current head coach Jackie Carson was a star player.
Calloway, who was 11 of 24 from the field, including 5 of 12 from 3-point range, had 25 points through three quarters before Titus took control.
“It’s unbelievable,” Calloway said. “Credit to coaches, hard work they put in. …We just came out focused and executed.”
Titus, who starts with four seniors, had five of her 10 rebounds in the final 10 minutes, along with a block, steal and two assists and went 5-of-7 shooting and made both her free throws.
Taylor Petty, who led Furman with a season-high 22 points, hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter for a 50-44 lead. But the Paladins struggled shooting in the fourth quarter. Titus and Calloway combined for Furman’s first 11 points of the fourth quarter before Rachel Selph’s free throw at the 3:27 mark tied the game at 56. Titus then made her free throws and turned a steal into a layup to complete a 9-0 run that had the Bears up 60-56.
Furman answered with two Tierra Hodges free throws to make it 60-58 with 2:21 to go but Titus found Amanda Thompson for a basket. Hodges scored on a jumper – ending a field-goal drought of 6:36 and eight misses – but Titus quickly answered at 1:07.
Petty was fouled on a 3-point attempt and cut the deficit to 64-63 with 45.5 to go. Titus then found Selph under the basket for the final points.
It was still a hectic finish as Davidson missed a 3-point attempt and Thompson missed two free throws with 14.4 seconds to go. Davidson got another chance in the left corner with about five seconds left but Thompson, the SoCon Player of the Year, had a partial block. In the ensuing scramble the Paladins got the ball to Davidson in the corner for a final shot that came close.
“It was a heck of a game all-around,” Mercer coach Susie Gardner said. “There was a moment there in the fourth quarter where I had to remind them, ‘Hey, we’re seniors.’ I think it the last three minutes in the fourth quarter it showed.”
Furman, which got 15 points from Celena Tabor and 12 from Hodges, went 4 of 16, 1 of 8 from distance, in the fourth quarter. That’s when Mercer went 9 of 16 but left the door open by going 4 of 9 from the foul line. The Paladins stayed close by making all seven of its free throws in the fourth quarter.