COLUMBIA — Not a soul stood up to leave Silverthorne Arena after the game buzzer ended William Penn University’s 67-52 victory over the Stephens basketball team in the championship game of the seventh annual Quality Inn Tip-Off tournament Saturday afternoon.
Every fan in the home stands of the small, aluminum gymnasium belongs to the close-knit Stephens’ basketball family. They waited patiently for coach Dane Pavlovich and the team to emerge from their locker room, each member exchanging hugs and extending consolation to one another.
This was supposed to be the Stars’ year to win their home tournament for the first time in program history. They had a solid week of practice, they had reviewed game tapes, they had started the season with a four-game winning streak for the first time in the program’s history.
But the Stars started off shakily Friday night in the tournament’s opening round against a familiar opponent.
“We beat St. Louis College of Pharmacy a week ago,” Pavlovich said after the game Friday night. “They came out ready to play and we didn’t. Our offense was stagnant and they were able to break our man to man defense down.”
Stephens was able to overcome its inconsistency by exploiting STLCOP’s obvious weakness — the team has just seven players on the roster. Pavlovich utilized the depth of his bench to maintain a fast-paced physical contest during the second half that the opponents could not sustain. The Stars shut out the Eutectics’ (The St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s team nickname) offense in the last eight minutes of the game, scoring 16 unanswered points and securing a 63-35 victory to advance the team to the championship game to play against William Penn University.
Despite Stephens’ weak man-to-man defense on Friday night, Pavlovich went with the same defensive strategy against the higher-octane offense of William Penn University.
“I thought we would be better at it (man-to-man defense),” Pavlovich said after the loss on Saturday. “And we were. We improved our defense by leaps and bounds compared to the first game.”
But it wasn’t enough. Stephens crumbled under pressure in the home stretch and got into foul trouble, allowing William Penn to secure the championship title with seven free throws in the last two minutes.
“We haven’t been in that situation before,” Pavlovich said. “It’s just something we’ll have to learn from.”