Eastern Oregon regained its 3-point touch in a high-scoring, back-and-forth first half.
In the second half, the Mountaineers’ defense shut down Reinhardt (Georgia) as EOU cruised into the second round.
Mariah Swanson led five EOU players in scoring with 19 points, and the sixth-ranked Mountaineers finished the game on a 51-15 run to earn their 25th straight win, 83-52, over the Eagles in the first round of the NAIA national championships in Sioux City, Iowa.
“I was really proud of the girls’ mentality and poise,” EOU head coach Anji Weissenfluh said. “They were poised, they were confident, and they just kept working. We shot the ball well. We were able to pound it inside and get the points in the paint. It was great balance, and we locked in and focused on defense in the second half.”
Eastern, the nation’s top 3-point shooting team, had struggled down the stretch of the season, shooting just
27 percent in the three games leading up to the national tournament, and 29.5 percent in the last four contests.
Those shooting woes were gone almost immediately Thursday. The Mountaineers made four of their first seven attempts from deep and went on to shoot 9-for-16 from 3 in the first half, and 10-for-19 for the contest.
“It helped us calm down,” Swanson said of the early success on offense. “They also couldn’t miss in the first half. Even though our defense wasn’t there and they were making shots, we were staying in it.”
But EOU couldn’t shake the Eagles early. Reinhardt was nearly as hot from 3-point range, going 7-for-14 in the game’s first 20 minutes.
“We weathered the storm in the first quarter,” Weissenfluh said. “We played tough defense in the first half, too. They just hit some shots.”
A pair of treys during a 10-0 run — one from Jaleya Mosley and another from Rebecca Cheeks — helped Reinhardt build its largest lead, 37-32, midway through the second quarter.
Eastern responded with a 14-3 run to end the half. Reece Bauer, who had eight points, seven rebounds and six assists, tied the score with a jumper, and Payton Parrish, who scored 12 points, followed with a 3 for a 40-37 lead. After the Eagles briefly tied the game, Stormee Van Belle, who scored 15 points, scored inside before Parrish converted a four-point play to send EOU into the half up, 46-40.
The Mountaineers then pounded the ball inside to break the game open. Van Belle and Swanson combined for Eastern’s first 13 points of the third — Van Belle at one stretch scoring eight in a row — as the Mountaineers built a 59-44 lead. Jessica Sexson later scored inside, then hit a 3-pointer to give EOU its largest lead at the time, 65-46, going to the fourth.
Swanson said EOU benefited from Reinhardt cooling off in the second half.
“It was just their shots were not falling as much,” she said. “We had a few close calls with the shot clock (in the first half) and then they’d get a bank 3, which didn’t happen in the second half.”
The Mountaineers eventually built the lead to as much as 33 points in the final quarter. EOU shot 53 percent for the contest, and 61 percent in the second half.
“We know we play our best when we move the ball and attack open gaps,” Van Belle said. “They can’t guard everything, so we took what they gave us.”
Eastern, in the process, turned in the highest-scoring performance against Reinhardt in more than two seasons. The 83 points scored was the most allowed by Reinhardt this season, and the most since Campbellsville (Kentucky) scored 91 points in a win over the Eagles in 2015.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers amped up the defense. The Eagles shot 48 percent during the first half to hang with EOU, but were held to just 12 second-half points. The team shot 18 percent while turning the ball over nine times. Reinhardt finished the game shooting 33 percent, committed 17 turnovers and was outrebounded 41-25.
Van Belle said the Mountaineers’ defense was the key component in the second half.
“We got stops on D, and that helped generate energy for our offense,” she said.
Maya Ah You-Dias and Sexson also reached double figures for the Mountaineers, scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively, with Ah You-Dias scoring all 11 of her points in the first quarter.
Cheeks scored 19 points — all in the first half — and added eight rebounds to lead the Eagles, but left midway through the third quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Reinhardt scored eight points after Cheeks checked out.
“She got a lot of touches early,” Weissenfluh said of Cheeks. “If she would have continued in the game we were going to double (team) her some more. We did that up until that point (that she went out). She’s not only tall but she’s very skilled. She could hit inside and out.”
Sara Byers and Mosley each added nine points with Mosley banking in two of three connecting 3s.
Eastern (31-2 overall) faces Northwestern (Iowa) in the second round at 1:30 p.m. PST today. The Red Raiders (23-8) defeated Friends (Kansas) in their opening round game, 81-74.
“They play three bigs,” Weissenfluh said of Northwestern. “Their guards can shoot the ball. They play very under control and very disciplined. They play a lot like us. They’ll run if given the opportunity, (and) they’re bigger than us.”
Like Eastern, Northwestern had balanced scoring in its opener. Five Red Raiders scored in double figures against Friends, led by Anna Kiel’s 20 points.
Swanson, though, believes the Mountaineers will be up for the challenge.
“They’re going to be a tough one. It’s not the easiest second round draw but hopefully we can come out strong,” she said.