Led by a near triple-double from junior Tia Perry, the 18th-ranked Christopher Newport Captains won their 11th conference championship on Sunday, dropping No. 23 Ferrum College in the USA South title game, 70-55. Perry was named Tournament MVP after leading CNU with 16 points, eight rebounds and a career-high nine steals, as the Captains earned the conference's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
The championship is the first under first-year head coach Bill Broderick, and the fourth title in the last five years. Senior Kelly Halverson and sophomore Camry Green were also named to the All-Tournament team. Ferrum's Jacole Hairston and Kylene Culler, and Maryville forward Tayler Smith were also honored.
For the second straight day, CNU played an offense that ranked in the nation's top ten. After dispatching the sixth-ranked Maryville offense, the Captains took care of Ferrum, the third-ranked offense in the nation. Christopher Newport never trailed, opening up a big lead in the first five minutes. In fact, the Captains never trailed in the 2013 USA South Tournament, earning three straight wire-to-wire wins.
On Sunday, the Captains surged ahead 12-2 as senior Kelly Halverson hit her ninth and tenth three-pointers of the tournament. Nicole Mitchell added a turn-around jumper in the paint to cap the early run. The real story was the CNU defense, though, as the Captains held Ferrum to just one made field-goal in the first 7:25 of game time.
Ferrum mounted a run, scoring eight of the next ten points, but another steal by Perry and a big blocked shot from rookie Kendra Stone helped get the lead back to double digits when Brandi Holland nailed a three. Another three, from Mitchell, with 3:20 remaining in the first half gave CNU a 13-point edge, followed by a free-throw for a 29-14 edge with 2:31 remaining.
At halftime, the lead was 12, as the Captains defense had forced 12 first-half turnovers, leading to 14 points off of giveaways. Mitchell had a strong first half, scoring 10 points and adding a pair of steals. Kylene Culler had eight rebounds for Ferrum, but the Panthers were struggling from the floor, hitting at just a 32.1% clip.
Out of the locker room, CNU again blasted ahead off the opening whistle. The Captains scored nine straight, opening up a 21-point lead at 42-21. It was the largest lead of the game, powered by solid defense again. A blocked shot from Mitchell and another steal by Perry led directly to points, and CNU was in control.
The Ferrum offense, though, was not ready to just go away. The Panthers went on a 13-4 run, cutting the gap to just 12 with 12:05 remaining. Boreika Burwell hit just her third three-pointer of the season to cap the surge, but CNU answered with a hard-fought layup from Camry Green. Green was just getting going in the second half, after sitting the bulk of the first due to foul trouble.
The Captains looked inside and Green stepped up, going 5-for-6 for 13 points in the second stanza. She added six rebounds and hit three free-throws. Ferrum would get no closer than 12, and CNU would hold on for the double-digit win, 70-55.
Three players finished in double figures, with Perry's 16 leading the way. Green had 15 points and Mitchell 14, while five other Captains got into the scoring column. Jacole Hairston led the way for Ferrum with 21 points.
With the victory, the Captains will advance to next week's first round of the NCAA Tournament; they await the decision of the National Selection Committee for their opening round opponent and destination - the selection show will be played on NCAA.com at 2:30 pm.
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