Seawolves drown Pats in fight for title

Briana Burgins (3) helped the lady Patriots in their battle for the Division II Women’s Basketball
National Championship. The Pats were eliminated by the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

Photo by: FMU Department of Athletics

Briana Burgins (3) helped the lady Patriots in their battle for the Division II Women’s Basketball National Championship. The Pats were eliminated by the University of Alaska at Anchorage.

FMU’s hunt for an NCAA Division II Women’s Basketball National Bhampionship ended in Sioux Falls, S.D., when the Patriots played in the National Quarterfinals for only the second time in the school’s history. The Seawolves of the University of Alaska at Anchorage proved too tough for the Patriots in the “Elite Eight” round, eliminating them 79-55.

The road to the “Final Four” started in Gaffney, S.C., where FMU entered the tournament as a seventh seed. Their first opponent was a familiar foe and the region’s second seed, the Lander Bearcats.

The Patriots earned a 62- 61 victory with sophomore forward Khayani Chandler blocking the potential gamewinning shot as time expired. FMU was led by senior Alaysia Watts in the first game, registering a double double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. Senior Camille Dash and sophomore Briana Burgins joined Watts with double digit points scoring 12 and 10.

The Patriots saw their seven point lead diminish in final two minutes. After calling a time out the Patriots failed to inbound the ball and turned it over on a five second violation. Lander was given the last shot with the Patriots leading by only 1 point. Sophomore Myles McKenith set up a three-pointer from the right corner, only to be denied by Chandler at the buzzer.

The victory was a team effort with the Patriots recording 47 rebounds and 11 assists.

In the next round, the Patriots drew a date with Columbus State, and Burgins recorded 16 points and 13 rebounds. She took the reins and led the Patriots in a come-from-behind effort to advance to the “Sweet Sixteen.” Watts not only scored 18 points but played a major role in the final minutes, sinking two key shots that cemented the victory for FMU. “

We believe, we really do,” Coach Jeri Porter said. “No one expected us to be here right now. So we just need to relax and do what we feel like we need to do.”

Burgins had a similar take on the comeback win for the Patriots.

“Our coach all season talked about how March Madness is all about making plays, and the team who makes the most plays wins,” Burgins said. “In the second half, we just started making smart and game-changing plays. Add some good shots and some huge rebounds, and you got yourself a comeback.”

The “Sweet Sixteen” pitted the Patriots against Augusta University a team that the Patriots defeated twice by double digits earlier in the season. Burgins led the Patriots, earning her second straight double double and the Regional Most Outstanding Player award. Four other Patriots also scored in double digits, and Watts tallied her 12th double double of the season.

“There was a plethora of great players with big time performances that weekend, so just to be mentioned in that group was an honor,” Burgins said. “It was an incredible feeling, and sharing it with my teammates and my family made the feeling that much more special.”

Augusta threw the first punches, gaining the lead in a back and forth battle, but with a layup by Burgins, the Patriots grabbed the lead with 6.52 seconds in the first half and would not relinquish it for the remainder of the game. A 15-2 run to start the second half increased the lead to 18. The Jaguars would cut the FMU lead to two inside the final minute, but an almost perfect 6 for 8 from the charity stripe inside the final minute would propel the Patriots into the “Elite Eight” and allow the seventh seed Cinderella to continue dancing into the Elite Eight for the first time since 1998 and only the second time in the history of Francis Marion University’s women’s basketball program.

“You know, basketball is a game of runs, and we’re on a run right now,” Porter said. “When this team stepped into the tournament thinking that they had a chance to win it all, especially with the teams that we knew were going to be here and the experience we had against them, it got them pumped up.”

The last stop for the Patriots was in the Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D., where they would play with the University of Alaska at Anchorage. Burgins scored 29 points, but her effort was not enough to advance the Patriots. As a team, they barely shot 30 percent to the Seawolves 51.6 percent from the field. At halftime, FMU trailed by 9 points, only to see the deficit grow in the second half when a determined Seawolves team extended the lead to double digits. The University of Anchorage at Alaska kept the Patriots behind by double digits for the remainder of the game.

While they may not have won the championship, Dash said she was proud of the Patriot’s history-making performance.

“I think the biggest key was our confidence throughout the tournament,” Dash said. “We knew that nobody really expected us to get as far as we did, and that fueled us. Plus there was no pressure on us, so we just gave it our all and had fun while doing it.”