The two-decades-long wait for a Lady Paladins’ run deep into March was prolonged Sunday afternoon, as the Mercer Bears defeated our beloved team 73-54 in a game that was far more competitive than the scoreboard would suggest. Senior Mercer player Amoria Neal-Tysor had a career day, with 26 points from 8-15 from the field, as well as six assists. Furman sophomore Tate Walters led the Paladins with 20 from 7-14 shooting, as well as three rebounds and three assists. Last season’s SoCon Freshman of the Year, sophomore Sydney James, contributed three points with 1-8 from the field. James has at least two years ahead of her on the team, with a lot of potential to unleash.
Paladins' Dreams Crumble in the Third Quarter
Exiting the half, the Dins were up 25-24 thanks to a one-handed buzzer-beater three-pointer by Tate Walters in what was proving to be an old-school defensive dogfight. After exchanging baskets to put the Bears in front 29-27, Tierra Hodges was controversially called for a foul 1:25 into the term, which, by way of being her 3rd personal, forced her out of the game. This proved to be the straw that broke the charger’s back, as the Bears went on a 22-0 run before Grace van Rij ended the bloodshed at the free-throw line 1:53 before quarter time. The quarter ended with the Bears leading 54-29, and, despite a late surge in the fourth by Furman, the result was effectively decided after 30 minutes.
Questions Should Be Asked About Furman's Defensive Structure
As mentioned previously, Bears senior guard Amoria Neal-Tysor had 26 points. Now, while she played incredibly, the methods by which Coach Carson and the Paladins’ defense attempted to deal with her should be called into question. Even before the run that effectively ended the game, 5’6” Neal-Tysor was consistently being marked by the 6’2” forward Grace van Rij in the half-court, which became problematic very quickly. As of the time of writing, I don’t have access to the post-game press conference, and so I cannot in good faith attempt to explain how and why this happened (I am no tactical genius, and I am not going to put words in Coach’s mouth because the world already has too much bad journalism to begin with). However, I would imagine that Coach Carson and her staff will be working on this problem as the season continues.
WNIT, Here the Dinnies Come!? (Not Really)
After my initial sadness had dissipated, I was reminded that the commentary team calling the game had brought up the prospects of the Paladins making the WNIT, so I decided to do my due diligence and look into that tournament. According to the tournament’s official website, the SoCon’s automatic bid will go to Wofford, as they were the regular-season runners-up (this, of course, assumes they don’t miraculously get an at-large bid to the Big Dance). The remaining 32 slots are filled by at-larges, which are ranked based on “factors such as (not in any particular order) the NET, strength of schedule, win-loss record, strength of opponents, strength of opponents’ schedule, record against Top 100 teams, margin of victory, how well a team is currently playing, common opponents, late-season win/loss runs, games against other potential invitees, and key injuries or COVID-related factors.” As of the championship game day, the Paladins were ranked a paltry 238th in the NET, however, there’s a catch: All at-larges must be above .500, and (since I dare not count the whole thing) a fair number of the teams above us have losing records, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that an at-large bid was outside the realm of possibility. Further, the last time the Paladins were in this tournament (2019), they entered in a very similar position (having lost the championship). Thus, I would have recommended that all tears should have been saved until at least the day after Selection Sunday. Unfortunately, Selection Sunday slapped us all in the face: A last-minute shot at March Madness is no longer within the realm of reality for the Lady Dins. If they claimed the title over Mercer, they would have played the UConn Huskies in what would be a phenomenal challenge against the number 2-seed powerhouse led by senior Christyn Williams and sophomore Paige Bueckers, arguably the most famous player in D1 women’s basketball.