BANGOR, Maine – New England College defeated Castleton University, 52-48, in a North Atlantic Conference Women's Basketball Tournament semifinal game Friday night at Newman Gymnasium on the campus of Husson University.
Castleton scored the first nine points of the game, featuring two steals and fast-break layups by Ashlie Fay. A three-pointer by Rene Hudson and a layup by Marissa Kopacz brought New England College within four, but the Spartans rattled off six unanswered points and held a 15-7 lead after the first quarter.
New England College went on a 9-2 scoring run over the first six minutes of the second quarter, with Marjani Lillard scoring seven of those points, as the Pilgrims pulled to within one at 17-16. Makayla Farrara and Taylor Raiche combined to lead Castleton on an 8-2 scoring run as the Spartans extended their lead back to seven at 25-18 at halftime.
After Amanda Beatty hit a layup early in the third quarter to give Castleton a 28-20 advantage, New England College went on an 8-2 scoring run to close its deficit to two at 30-28 halfway through the third quarter. After the Spartans extended their lead back to five, Daleia Boutwell hit a layup in the final minute to bring the Pilgrims within three at 35-32 heading into the final quarter.
Utshana Durham hit two free throws and Lillard converted a layup to give NEC a 36-35 lead, but three free throws by Beatty and a three-pointer from Abbie Lesure put the Spartans back on top, 41-37. The Pilgrims scored six straight points to retake the lead before a three-pointer by Alexis Quenneville with 1:38 remaining in regulation gave Castleton a 46-44 advantage.
Lillard hit a layup to tie the game and then, after a Castleton turnover, Breana Ramirez made one free throw to give NEC the lead. The Spartans missed a shot on their next possession, and the Pilgrims pulled away in the final minute by going 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
Lillard led New England College with 18 points, plus she pulled down four rebounds, dished out five assists, and earned five steals. Durham and Kopacz finished with nine points apiece, and Ramirez grabbed a team-high nine rebounds as the Pilgrims won the rebounding battle, 39-35.
Beatty led the Spartans with 14 points and eight rebounds, and Raiche collected nine points during the game. Castleton shot 34 percent (18-of-53) from the field, including 3-of-13 from behind the three-point line, and 60 percent (9-of-15) from the free throw line.
The Pilgrims won despite shooting just 30.4 percent (14-of-46) from the field, including 1-of-11 from behind the three-point line. New England College was able to get to the free throw line, hitting 23-of-32 attempts from the charity stripe, including 18-of-24 on free throw attempts in the second half.
New England College improves to 21-6 overall as it advances to face top seed and host school Husson in the NAC Tournament championship game Saturday, Feb. 25, at 4:30 p.m. Castleton's 2016-17 season ends with a 17-9 overall record.