CRESTVIEW HILLS, Ky. — The matchup between No. 6 Carroll and No. 4 Thomas More looked good on paper going into Wednesday night, and after 45 minutes of back-and-forth play that featured an overtime period, the contest lived up to the billing in a 74-73 Thomas More victory.
“I thought the players really battled,” Carroll head coach Rachelle Sayers said. “We got down 11 [points] and made a push, got the thing to overtime and took the lead in overtime. We just got in a lot of early foul trouble, which is really difficult against the No. 4-ranked team in the country that’s playing at home. We had to play some kids a lot of minutes and didn’t have some of our key players during certain points in the game. It makes it difficult.”
With 1:14 remaining in the overtime period, it looked as if Carroll would knock off its top-5 opponent. Up until that point, the Saints had not led in the extra period, but a Kamden Hilborn 3-pointer changed that, giving Carroll a slim one-point advantage.
Maddie Geritz capped off her 11-point, six-rebound performance with two free throws after being fouled on the play, extending the Saints’ edge to three points with only 74 seconds on the clock.
Thomas More, however, ripped off a 6-0 run that included a go-ahead basket from Zoie Barth, elected to foul Carroll up three points and made its own free throws down the stretch to slide past the Saints on its home court.
Christine Denny buried a 3-pointer from the volleyball line as the final horn sounded, but it was not enough to overcome the four-point deficit. That shot put the finishing touches on Denny’s second double-double of the season as she finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
Dani Wagner poured in a game-high 16 points for the Saints on 6-for-13 shooting and pulled down seven rebounds. Sienna Swannack added 13 points and Kamden Hilborn chipped in nine points, five assists and two steals.
Three different Saints were whistled for at least four fouls in the loss. Another two players picked up three fouls on Wednesday. Jamie Pickens fouled out with 3:41 left in the overtime period after playing very sparingly in the first half following two early fouls.
Geritz picked up the slack in her stead, drilling a 3-pointer in the second quarter that capped a 7-0 Carroll run. Geritz also made two free throws with less than two minutes on the clock in overtime that tied the contest at 64-64.
“I thought Maddie came in and gave us a huge lift,” Sayers said. “Jamie got in foul trouble and we needed Maddie. Genesis Wilkinson had to come in and give us some good minutes in the first half. Maddie came in and did a nice job. She rebounded well, she defended well and knocked down some critical free throws.”
Thomas More attempted 19 free throws in the win, making 16 of them. After hitting four 3-pointers in the first quarter, Thomas More failed to connect on another long-range shot all game, finishing 4-for-19 (21.1 percent) from that distance.
Carroll knocked down seven triples on the afternoon and controlled the boards with a 33-24 edge overall and 11-7 on the offensive glass. Still, the Saints were whistled for 24 personal fouls, 11 more than Thomas More.
“It was a really physical game between two very competitive and well-matched teams,” Sayers said. “It was difficult to adjust to what was a foul and what wasn’t a foul because the game was fast and it was physical and both teams were playing at a pretty high level.”
In a game that featured so many back-and-forth moments, only twice did it look like Thomas More might run away and hide on Wednesday. The home team jumped out to a 10-2 lead early, only to have Carroll reel off a 9-3 run and close it to a two-point game with 3:53 left in the first quarter.
Carroll trailed by three points after 10 minutes of play, but went ahead 24-20 early in the second quarter. Thomas More answered with a 6-0 run, Carroll tied the game at 26-26, and went into the halftime locker room down a single point.
Thirty-nine seconds into the fourth quarter, Taylor Clos buried a jumper, giving Thomas More a 54-43 lead. The Saints responded with a Denny 3-pointer, turnover and Swannack triple to cut that advantage to five points. Over the final nine-plus minutes of regulation, Carroll outscored Thomas More 17-6 to tie the contest at 60-60 and send it to an overtime period that Thomas More would eventually come out on the better side of.
“This is a team that wants to compete for a national championship,” Sayers said of her team. “They’re going to fight and that’s what they did. We dug ourselves a little hole and they battled back. We hit some big shots. We got some big stops and found a way to get it to overtime. We had every chance to win that thing...To come across the country to play a team like this and to play them to one point in overtime says a lot about your team...
“I think the kids walked out of the locker room super disappointed because that game was in our hands, but also knowing there was a purpose for coming here: to play three ranked teams on the road. That’s going to prepare us for what we wanna be doing in March.”
Another two teams Carroll might see in the NAIA postseason are up next on the docket. Following a quick turnaround, the Saints are scheduled to play No. 15 Saint Xavier (Ill.) and No. 14 Lindsey Wilson College to wrap up their road trip. Carroll gets Saint Xavier on Friday at 2:45 p.m. and Lindsey Wilson Saturday morning at 10.
“Definitely contrasting styles from what we just saw. Both teams will be really aggressive off the bounce,” Sayers said. “They’re not overly big teams but extremely athletic, well-coached, and teams that have traditionally been in the national tournament...We’re gonna have to execute a little bit better. We’re gonna have to stay out of foul trouble and we’re gonna have to get down and keep the ball in front of us.”
Before those top-15 match-ups, however, Carroll will pause for the Thanksgiving holiday. Spending it away from home this year, the Saints plan to have a meal together, but mostly, Thursday will be about resting up following a cross-country plane trip and Wednesday afternoon contest.
“We’re going to have Thanksgiving together,” Sayers said. “We may see some Christmas lights in Cincinnati. We’re going to have some tired legs...We left [Carroll] at 12:30 in the afternoon on Monday and got to Cincinnati at 1:30 in the morning. We’re gonna rest, having a nice Thanksgiving dinner together. We’ve got a little bit of a practice then we’ve gotta get ready for two more teams that are ranked in the top-15.”
Carroll is now 7-2 on the season with both of its losses coming against teams currently ranked inside the top-5 in the NAIA coaches' poll.