EASTON, Mass. – The No. 16 University of the Sciences women's basketball team won an NCAA Tournament game for the second year in a row, defeating six-seed LIU Post 61-50 in the First Round of the NCAA East Regional on Friday afternoon at Merkert Gymnasium.
After not winning an NCAA Tournament game prior to last season, USciences (29-3) has now won two in the past two seasons. The Devils advance to the Second Round for the second straight year, where they will face either two-seed Bentley or seven-seed Jefferson at 5 p.m. for an opportunity to advance to the program's first-ever Sweet 16.
"I think having been here last year is huge. Our players knew what to expect coming in. They were familiar with the whole routine," said head coach Jackie Hartzell. "Moving forward, we were in this game last year so we know what it's like to be in the second round and hopefully this year we have a better result. "
Leading 32-31 at the half, University of the Sciences held LIU Post scoreless for the first 4:15 of the third quarter, scoring seven straight points to take the game's largest lead, 39-31, when Colleen Walsh made a 3-pointer with 6:18 showing.
The advantage remained multiple possessions until the Pioneers converted a 3-point play to cut the deficit to two, 48-46, with 8:18 to play.
Once again the USciences defense stepped up, holding LIU Post scoreless for 5:10.
After a Walsh layup and a Sarah Abbonizio free throw, Irisa Ye made a driving layup to push the lead back to seven with 4:11 remaining. The next possession, the freshman drove and found Jordan Vitelli in the corner for an open 3-pointer for the game's first double-digit advantage, 56-46, with just 3:08 to go.
LIU Post (22-8) scored on back-to-back possession but could never get closer than six.
The defense was the story for University of the Sciences, as it limited the Pioneers to just 31.5 percent shooting (17-of-54), including 19.0 percent from 3-point range (4-of-21).
The Devils shot 23-for-46 for 50.0 percent.
Vitelli picked a good time for her third 20-point game of the season, as she led all players with 21 points. She made 7-of-10 field goals, including 3-of-6 3-pointers, as well as all four of her foul shots. The sophomore also had four rebounds and two steals.
"I think personally they scouted us pretty well, knowing we were a shooting team and knowing Alex (Thomas) and Sarah were our leading scorers," said Vitelli. "I think even if you take our leading scorers out of the game, we always have people who can come off the bench and score and keep us in the game."
She led a balanced scoring attack that featured four Devils that scored at least seven points.
Alex Thomas was next up with 11 points, and she added five rebounds. The junior moved up two positions on USciences' all-time scoring list into seventh with 1,291 for her career.
"Everybody stepped up and did their part," said Thomas. "As a team we played really well."
Abbonizio added 10 points and fell one rebound shy of her career-best with a team-high seven. She also led the Devils with three assists and two steals.
Ye finished with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, and she also pulled down five boards.
"I think teams are really starting to take away Sarah, Alex and Jordan. Irsia has come on late in the season and really stepped up," said Hartzell. "She has felt more comfortable and is not playing like a freshman anymore. We feel very comfortable with the ball in her hands."
Walsh contributed seven points on 3-of-4 field goals, to go along with six rebounds. She moved into solo possession of ninth in the program's single-season history with her 60th 3-pointer of the season.
Notably, Laura Trish blocked a shot to move into 10th in single-season history with her 40th rejection of the season.
University of the Sciences found itself down 9-2 just 2:14 into the action, however the Devils fought their way back to tie the game for the first time on an Abbonizio trifecta with an even one minute left. She then made two free throws 49 seconds later to give USciences its first advantage, 18-17, at the end of the first quarter.
LIU Post opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer to regain the lead, but Vitelli quickly answered with a triple to give University of the Sciences an advantage it would hold on too the rest of the afternoon.
The USciences lead reached as high as seven in the first half, 29-22, when Abbonizio completed six unanswered with a layup at the 5:06 mark, but LIU Post converted a three-point play with just 2.1 seconds showing to cut the deficit to 32-31 heading into the locker room.