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Flame On!

Maples catches fire in second half as Scots roar into Sweet 16s
Maryville College sophomore Madison Maples drives the baseline against Birmingham Southern’s Jameice Holmes in a second NCAA tournament game on Saturday. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

When she hit the second one there was no doubt.

Here they come.

Madison Maples shook off a weekend shooting slump to pour in 16 second half points, and the Maryville College women’s basketball team stopped Birmingham Southern, 63-56, in a second round NCAA tournament game on Saturday at Boydson Baird Gymnasium.

Maryville's Joanna Young elevates to the basket.

Maryville’s Joanna Young elevates to the basket. Look at the hops!

Next for the No. 12 Scots (26-3) is a Sweet 16 showdown at No. 1 and defending national champion Thomas More (Ky.) College on Friday.

It’s a big ask, but Maryville is neither cowed nor unworthy. The Scots fell, 72-62, to the Saints in last season’s opener, Maryville up close at 51-45 with eight minutes remaining.

Maryville knows all too well how precarious hosting the regional finals can be. The then Lady Scots played host to the round of 16 in 1995 during the junior year of all-time career scoring leader Jamie Parrott Rogers, a two-time Kodak All-American.

A powerhouse club coached by former Tennessee Lady Vol Kelli Casteel Cook was upset on its home floor in the regional semifinals.

Saturday’s big second half from Maples saw the Scots sophomore finish with a team-best 19 points on 4-of-9 shooting from 3. The 5-foot-7 shooting guard finished 5-of-6 from the free-throw line to go with four boards and a pair of steals.

“I think it was just my teammates having the confidence in me to knock it down,” Maples said.

Mackenzie Puckett was just back of Maples with 18 points, the senior All-American a perfect 12-for-12 from the free-throw line.

With Friday’s performance in the win over the University of Mary Washington, the two-time USA South player of the year was 25-of-25 from the stripe for the weekend.

Maryville got nine points, five assists, five steals and three blocks from guard Jordan Ballard on Saturday.

As part of a collective effort as Puckett sat the bench with foul trouble much of the evening, shooting guard Lauren Biliter put up a line of five points, eight rebounds and four blocks, three of the swats and a steal coming in the opening quarter of play.

Maryville needed all of it to offset an all but unstoppable night from Birmingham Southern senior Yorisha Bryant. In only her first season of college basketball, the volleyball convert and high school player tossed in a game-high 26 points, doubling up with 14 boards.

Telling, the Panthers would put no one else in double figures, Jameice Holmes next best with nine.

“(Friday), we had tremendous energy from the opening tip,” Maryville coach Darrin Travillian said. “(Saturday), it took us a while to get locked in.”

Jordan Ballard works the ball around the perimeter under heavy pressure.

Jordan Ballard works the ball around the perimeter under heavy pressure.

Foul trouble dogged Maryville’s every step right from the outset. Puckett put the Scots out front, 19-12, on a crowd-stirring, step-through move with a minute to play in the first quarter. Maryville made the quarter change with a 19-15 advantage. It wouldn’t last.

Puckett sat the duration of the second quarter with her second foul. By the half, five others — Joanna Young, Allyson Freiermuth, Ballard, Rachel Hawn, Linley Dunn — also picked up their second.

Taking full advantage, the Panthers powered away behind Bryant to take a 32-29 lead at the break.

As the teams made their way back to the court for half two, Young pulled Maples aside outside the Maryville locker room. A Farragut High School product and a pure scorer, Maples was two for her last 14 from the field, including a 1-for-9 outing in the win over Mary Washington.

Young’s words were brief: “We need you.”

Just like that, it was “Flame on!”

Puckett was back on the bench with her third foul with seven minutes to play in the third. She would collect her fourth before the end of the frame. The Panthers quickly stretched the lead to 10 but could open it no further.

Mackenzie Puckett goes for the block.

Mackenzie Puckett goes for the block.

“I thought (the Scots) did a good job on defense,” Birmingham Southern coach Mike Ricks said. “They really ramped up the pressure.”

Maples first shook Maryville to life on offense with a 3 from the left side. Biliter’s fourth block with seconds to play in the quarter got the crowd into it. Maples followed with her third bomb, and the Scots pulled within 43-39 to start the fourth.

“I think the mentality, especially in the fourth quarter, was we kept the determination to just fight,” Puckett said.

Maryville got within one on a gem from Freiermuth with seven minutes to play. On a drive up the baseline, the junior forward was tripped and lost her footing. As she fell, Freiermuth spied Maples unattended in the opposite corner and made the pass.

Maples’ final 3 got the Scots within 47-46 at the 7:35 mark. Two minutes later, a Freiermuth free throw put Maryville ahead to stay. Puckett — on a pair of foul line jumpers, a deflection on defense and 6-of-6 free-throw shooting — took it from there, pouring in 10 of her 18 in the final three minutes.

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