Eastern Oregon gave the top-ranked team in the nation all it could handle, but came up three points short.
Despite a career-high 21 points from senior Ashley Knight, the ninth-ranked and No. 3 seed Mountaineers fell to No. 1 Saint Francis, 51-48, Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals at the NAIA National Championships in Sioux City, Iowa.
The loss ended EOU’s season at 30-5 overall and halted its bid for a first-ever trip to the NAIA Final Four.
Maya Ah You Dias added 11 points for EOU, but missed on a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the closing seconds. The Mountaineers, who were held to their lowest point total in three games at the tournament and second-lowest of the season, also had their worst game from beyond the arc. EOU was just 2-for-19 from deep, tying a season low in 3-point field goals and reaching its low mark in percentage (10.5 percent).
The game started in the exact opposite way for the Mountaineers, however. Knight had 10 points in the opening quarter, and EOU shot 63 percent and used a 17-4 run to take a 23-10 lead after one.
The offense struggled after the first, however, and the Fighting Saints slowly worked their way back. Saint Francis (34-1), which was led by Charnelle Reed’s 16 points, drew as close as six in the second quarter before entering the half down, 31-23, the outscored the Mountaineers in the third, 17-8, to edge into the lead going into the fourth, 40-39, on a basket in the lane by Reed.
The Saints pulled ahead by five on several occasions in the final period, the last at 50-45 on another Reed field goal with 2:19 left before EOU narrowed the gap on a free throw by Dias and two free throws by Knight. EOU then forced a missed 3 by by Angelica Osusky with under 20 seconds to play, but Nichole Davidson grabbed the last of the Saints’ 15 offensive rebounds, forcing EOU to foul. Davidson made one free throw with 7.8 seconds to play for the final margin, and Saint Francis held on.
EOU finished shooting 38 percent, just ahead of Saint Francis’ 34 percent. But the Mountaineers were just 28 percent after the hot-shooting first quarter.
EOU played in its third Elite Eight game. The other appearances came in 2012, when they lost to College of the Ozarks, 74-55, and in 2013, a 62-60 loss to Davenport.