Benedict Women Look to Make History Against Florida Tech

By: Benedict Athletics

JACKSON, Tenn. (Benedict SID) — The 11th-ranked Benedict College women’s basketball team has already set numerous school records this season. They are the highest nationally ranked women’s basketball team in school history. Their No. 2 ranking in the NCAA South Region is also a school first. Their 27 wins is the most ever as an NCAA school.

But there is one first the Lady Tigers have yet to achieve – the first Benedict women’s basketball team to win an NCAA Tournament game. Benedict will have that opportunity on Friday when they take on seventh-seed Florida Tech at 3:30 p.m. Eastern on the campus of Union University. Union will provide live stats and a live video feed.

The Lady Tigers are making their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and fifth overall since 2007. But the Lady Tigers are 0-4 in NCAA postseason action. Last year, Benedict was a No. 5 seed and lost to No. 4 seed West Florida in the opening round in a game played at Union.

Benedict head coach James Rice, making his third NCAA appearance in four years, said those games have helped prepare him for Friday’s game, knowing how much work goes in to preparing for the type of competition they will face in this region tournament.

“As far as on this level, you can’t make too many mistakes,” Rice said. “In that Nova Southeastern game (two years ago), we were playing well and dictating the tempo. Where we fell off is when they made that little run. When you’re playing these caliber of opponents, they can score in bunches. That prepared me in that sometimes you are going to have to call a time out, where during the regular season, I would let us play through it. Here, if you let them play through it, you’ll be down by 20 before you know it.”

Last year, West Florida went on a big run in the first half and Benedict could never recover. Rice said returning to Union does not hold any special meaning, especially since the Lady Tigers were hoping to earn the top seed in the region and host the tournament at Benedict, where they are unbeaten over the past two years.

“I think with Union losing, we were really close to hosting,” Rice said. “So what it did was put a little chip on your shoulder to go out there and try to prove something. But it’s going to be hard. Even if we were home, it would still be hard.”

The Florida Tech Panthers are 20-9 overall, after falling to Tampa in the championship game of the Sunshine State Conference championship. Florida Tech beat Tampa twice during the regular season, a team Benedict beat by 12 points at home in December. Florida Tech also beat Claflin. Claflin took one of two meetings against Benedict during the regular season.

“We’re going to have to play defense. They’ve got a really good team, an offensive rebounding team,” Rice said. “We’re going to have our hands full. It’s going to be a tough game. It’s going to be a good game if we come to play.”

The Panthers rank first in the SSC and sixth nationally in offensive rebounds per game. They also led the SSC in rebound margin, and are 22nd nationally. Benedict is second nationally in offensive rebounding and leads the nation in rebounding margin.

“(Kailyn Ebb) is pretty good. She plays like us on the boards. So we’re going to try and keep her off the boards. (Shequana Harris) is a really good guard. She can shoot the three, she can take the ball to the basket and she can distribute the ball. So we’re going to have to try and slow her down. (Julie McCarthy) is a pretty good low post scorer. She brings good presence to the paint. (Tiesha Flagler) is a crafty ball player. She does it all. She can get to the basket, can distribute the ball and has a nice mid-range shot. We’re playing a really good team in Florida Tech, and their coach is a really good coach,” Rice said.

Harris, a transfer from Division I Providence College, leads the Panthers in scoring at 15 points per game and was named second-team All-Sunshine State Conference. Flager is second in scoring (10.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.1). She also has attempted 142 free throws, making 101. Ebb leads the team in rebounding at 6.2 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 McCarthy, a Division I transfer from Tennessee State, leads the team in rebounding at 6.7 per game.

Florida Tech coach John Reynolds is in his 29th season as head coach of the Panthers, and he is expecting a tough game from Benedict.

“I think they’re solid. They’re not 27-2 for not being solid,” Reynolds said. “Their perimeter game’s good, their post players are active. One thing you’ve got to do with them is you’ve got to keep (Regime) McCombs from getting open looks and keep her uncomfortable. I don’t know if that is possible. And you can’t give them second-chance opportunities. Their post players are active and we’ve got to limit their second-chance points. That’s a key for us.”

The winner of Friday’s game advances to the semifinals on Saturday at 5 p.m. Central. They will play the winner between third-seed Delta State and sixth-seed Nova Southeastern. The region championship game is Tuesday at 7 p.m. Central.

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