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Presbyterian women win over Sacred Heart in NCAA Tournament debut

NCAA March Madness basketball NCAA March Madness basketball - The Canadian Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Mara Neira made sure Presbyterian's first-ever NCAA Tournament game was memorable, scoring 14 points, including two free throws with 26.1 seconds left, as the Blue Hose beat Sacred Heart 49-42 in the First Four on Wednesday night.

The Big South Tournament champions earned a Friday rematch with top-ranked South Carolina, which administered a 99-29 beatdown on this same floor on Dec. 16. Presbyterian is the smallest school in the tournament with 955 undergraduates in 2022-23.

Last year, Sacred Heart won the first NCAA Tournament game for a Northeast Athletic Conference team with a 57-47 win over Southern.

The Blue Hose won the battle of 16-seeds with defense, limiting Sacred Heart, which had won 15-straight games, to 25% shooting, including 3 of 23 from 3-point range.

Bryanna Brady added 12 points for Presbyterian (21-14), which had to beat three higher seeds in the Big South tourney to extend its season. Tilda Sjokvist, the Big South tourney MVP, had eight points, six assists, four rebounds, two steals and a block. Although Sjokvist was 3-of-13 shooting, she had a clutch jumper with 1:18 to play for a 45-40 lead.

Ny’Ceara Pryor scored 12 points with seven rebounds, seven steals and four assists for Sacred Heart, but it was a struggle for the sophomore who is the two-time Northeast Conference player of the year and tournament MVP. Pryor was 3 of 19 from the field. Sierra Johnson added 10 points.

Sacred Heart put up 23 more shots by forcing 10 more turnovers and getting 10 more offensive rebounds but the Blue Hose, despite going 1 of 11 behind the arc, shot 40%. In addition to making 16 of 40 shots they were also 16 of 19 from the foul line compared to 7 of 10 for Sacred Heart.

In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, again with 2:42 to play and finally with 27 seconds left, the Pioneers got within three but never closer.

Presbyterian made 6 of 10 shots to take a 14-9 lead after one quarter. The Pioneers were 4 of 19.

The Blue Hose defense was better in the second quarter, holding Sacred Heart to eight points to open a 29-17 lead at the half. The Pioneers were 3 of 12 from the field and went almost 7 1/2 minutes without a basket. Neira had a three-point play and 3-pointer back-to-back to make it 25-11, the largest lead of the game.

The script flipped in the third quarter when the Blue Hose were 2 of 12 and had the lead cut to 35-30.