Shawnee State hasn't won an AMC regular season or tournament championship since winning one or both from 1996-2003. The Bears are now one more win away from reclaiming one of the titles they called their own for eight seasons.
Tara Walker scored 32 points, four shy of her career-high, and Shawnee State dispatched Geneva on Saturday 83-67 to reach the AMC Tournament Finals.
Walker made 12 of 18 shots and also grabbed seven rebounds. She propelled a Bears offense that didn't stagnate for 40 minutes after two straight games were marred by scoring droughts.
“There's no point in playing (in the AMC Tournament) if you're not going to win it,” Walker said. “We haven't won it for two years and, by golly, we're going to win it this year.”
Along with Walker, Shannon Thomas scored 11 points and grabbed seven boards and Kelly Wagner and Karen Diehl added 10 points apiece.
After Shawnee State squandered a 22-5 lead in the quarterfinals against Malone on Tuesday, allowing the Pioneers to get as close as six, the offense didn't slack against Geneva. The biggest factor was the offensive parity. Six players had at least seven points and the Bears' offense had few hiccups.
“The well-rounded scoring is what wins ball games,” Walker said. “Things happen throughout the season and that's the key. we have to step up and fill our roles.”
Geneva (17-9) came into Saturday with nothing to lose, and like Ohio Dominican in 2004 and Roberts Wesleyan last season, the only chance the Golden Tornadoes had of making the national tournament would be to win the AMC Tournament. Unlike before, Shawnee State (24-6) derailed that dream.
Even though Geneva never led and the only tie was at 2-2, the Golden Tornadoes hung around, staying within single digits for much of the first half, despite Shawnee State shooting 62 percent.
“We had to execute offensively and defensively,” Robin Hagen-Smith said. “They pushed us to the max and it was a great semifinal game.”
Shawnee State finally broke the game open with an 11-4 run in the second half to take a 63-49 lead. Walker scored four points in the burst, but it was Shannon Leasure off the bench who provided the punch.
Leasure missed a 3 almost as soon as she stepped on the court with about 14 minutes left in the second. Undeterred, she scored all seven of her points in the run, including a 3-pointer to give the Bears their 14-point edge.
“Shannon Leasure hit some shots that were crucial,” Hagen-Smith said.
Jen Rawding, who became Geneva's all-time leading scorer with her first basket on Saturday, scored 15 points. Yet, it was 5-foot-1 point guard Jackie Anthony who dominated play for the Golden Tornadoes. The speedy guard had little trouble attacking the basket and scored 14 points to go with three assists and two steals.
“We thought her quickness would bother whoever they put on her,” Geneva coach Ron Galbreath said. “Shawnee State is a good team, well-prepared and is well-coached. (Walker), we had no answer for her. Our girls didn't quit.”
Mandy Deal, who leads the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio, was again doing her job. She finished with six assists to only one turnover. Plus, Deal got that turnover back with a steal of her own.
Deal threw several nifty passes to Walker, looking away the defense before finding her favorite target on the blocks.
“Mandy Deal and Tara Walker ... a dynamic duo,” Hagen-Smith said. “It gives me cold chills.”
Walker has scored 30 or more points three times since Jan. 24. Against Geneva, she said she had no idea how many points she scored or how close she was to her career-high of 36. Walker made 8 of 11 free throws and the only thing Geneva could do defensively was try to keep her from catching the ball too close to the rim and then hope she missed it.
“She was just tough and kept taking it to them,” Hagen-Smith said.
The Bears play in the finals on Tuesday at Daemen, who beat Walsh 96-89 on Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.
The game will be played in Amherst, NY.
JASON R. CRISLER can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 242 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anthony 6-14 2-3 14, Dobos 0-2 0-0 0, J. Rawding 6-12 3-3 15, Cananzi 4-11 0-0 10, Gallagher 5-9 0-0 11, Kittner 2-6 0-0 6, R. Rawding 1-2 2-2 4, Beachy 0-2 0-0 0, Clarke 3-9 1-3 7. Totals 27-67 8-11 67.
Shawnee State (83)
Deal 1-3 0-0 3, Schilling 2-5 4-4 8, Thomas 5-7 1-3 11, Wagner 2-4 6-6 10, Walker 12-18 8-11 32, Ramey 0-0 0-0 0, McKenzie 0-0 0-0 0, Rudmann 0-1 0-0 0, Leasure 3-8 0-0 7, Babione 0-0 2-2 2, Diehl 3-4 4-4 10. Totals 28-50 25-30 83.
Halftime - Shawnee State 40, Geneva 32. Fouled out - Geneva (Dobos). Rebounds - Geneva 30 (Clark 6), Shawnee State 35 (Walker 7, Thomas 7). Assists - Geneva 10 (Anthony 6), Shawnee State 17 (Deal 6). Total fouls - Geneva 22, Shawnee State 11.