COLUMBIA — With just more than four minutes left in a 58-55 game, the Columbia College women's basketball team had nearly erased the double-digit lead Cumberlands University had held for most of the second half.
Senior guard Lily Abreu took the ball off a steal at center court and drove through the middle of the lane. She went up for a layup, but was fouled. The ball hung in the air for a moment and rolled around the entire rim before lipping out and falling to the ground.
Had the shot fallen, it would have given the Cougars a chance to tie the game on a three-point play. Instead, Abreu made one of two free throws, leaving the team down by two. They eventually tied the game and even took the lead briefly with just more than two minutes left, but were unable to keep it, and the Patriots held on for a 70-65 victory.
After a slow first half and start to the second half, the Cougars found themselves down 57-42 with just less than nine minutes to play. They dug in defensively, generating turnovers that led to fast-break points and closed the gap using a 16-1 run to tie the game at 58.
Abreu, who scored 18 points, said the comeback was initiated by increased communication and hustling for balls more.
"We started slow, but we started telling each other to play our game and built up some confidence," she said.
Columbia College coach Mike Davis saw his team start battling for position in the post more as the rally started, and while the outcome was not desirable, he said he was pleased with how the Cougars fought back.
"We started out a little soft, but then the game turned into a nasty, ugly mess," Davis said. "Teams that don't mind playing games like that hold a soft spot in my heart."
The Cougars took the lead with 2:55 left when junior guard Heather English, who scored 18 points despite shooting just 1 for 8 in the first half, hit a 3-pointer to give the Cougars their first lead since early in the first half. The Cougars were unable to hold the lead, and the Patriots, No. 18 in the NAIA, scored six straight points to put the game away.
The loss sets the No. 21 Cougars back to 1-1, but Davis said playing tough ranked competition early will help prepare his team for later in the season.
"This had a national tournament setting and we're just in the beginning of November," Davis said. "We're not getting lulled to sleep by easy competition, and it helps us see what we need to work on early."
The Cougars take on another ranked opponent when they face No. 13 Campbellsville at 6 p.m. Monday at the Arena of Southwell Complex.