Tritons lose heart breaker

EAST PEORIA, Ill. – What started out as a promising afternoon ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Iowa Central women’s basketball team Tuesday.

Making their fourth-ever national tournament appearance, the eighth-seeded Tritons (24-9 overall) dropped a hard-fought 87-84 decision to No. 9 seed and 14th-ranked Monroe (N.Y.) in the opening round of the NJCAA Div. II Championships at the Illinois Central College CougarPlex Fitness Center.

Despite jumping out to an early 31-9 advantage and leading by nine at the break, Iowa Central was outscored by the two-time defending national champions 55-43 in the second half.

“Monroe is the most athletic team we’ve gone against in eight years,” said ICCC head coach Craig Carlson. “I was very proud of our effort, but we just couldn’t get a rebound or make a free throw down the stretch. You just can’t give up 28 offensive rebounds and expect to beat a quality team like (the Mustangs).”

The Tritons lost the battle on the boards, 61-41. Iowa Central also finished just 15-for-28 at the charity stripe.

Katie Dentlinger (18), Babaye Oja (16), Lydia Harvey (16), Miliakere Koyamainavure (11), Theresa Doyle (10) and Jasmine Binion (10) all scored in double figures for the Region XI champion Tritons, who saw their six-game winning streak snapped. Iowa Central, which went 11-for-26 from outside the arc, shot 43.2 percent from the field compared to only 36.9 for Monroe.

“We were hitting our shots and playing solid defense, but then Harvey and Oja got in some foul trouble (Dentlinger, Harvey and Oja all fouled out), and we gambled a little and went on a dry spell right before the half,” Carlson said. “(The Mustangs) were probably a little bigger and quicker at every spot, and their halfcourt defense kind of bothered us.”

Jasmine McRoy, a second-team NJCAA Div. II All-American a year ago, poured in a game-high 24 points for the Mustangs (23-7), while Ly’Nasha Frazier contributed 19 and Christina Jones added 12.

“We just couldn’t get any production off our bench (the Triton reserves were outscored 31-13),” said Carlson. “Now, we have to regroup and see what we can get done on Thursday.”

Awaiting Iowa Central in the consolation bracket Thursday at 11 a.m. is 16th-seeded North Platte (Neb.). The Lady Knights (15-15) suffered a 63-35 setback to second-ranked and No. 1 seed Mesa (Ari.).

“All the teams (at nationals) are better than I anticipated,” Carlson said. “North Platte is big and physical and can really shoot it.”

Monroe, which has prevailed in 10 of its last 11 outings, advances to meet Mesa (26-6) in the tournament quarterfinals Thursday at 6 p.m.