GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) – For Wright State to reach the NCAA women’s tournament for the first time, the Raiders had to accomplish another first for the program.
Thanks to a resurgent second half by conference player of the year Kim Demmings, they did both.
Demmings shook off a foul-plagued first half and scored 22 of her 26 points after the break, helping Wright State rally for an 88-69 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sunday in the championship game of the Horizon League women’s tournament.
Demmings, limited to just nine minutes in the first half with three fouls, hit five 3-pointers in the second half as the Raiders overcame a 10-point deficit against the Phoenix, who were 27-0 at home against Wright State.
“It feels good, it’s obviously a feeling we’ve never had, so I don’t know how the ride back’s going to after a win,” said Wright State coach Mike Bradbury. “Probably better than the loss.”
Tay’ler Mingo had 31 points, including eight in the final 1:36, for Wright State (26-8). The Raiders avenged a pair of close conference losses to Green Bay, which has won 16 consecutive Horizon League regular-season titles.
Mehryn Kraker had 19 points and Breannah Ranger 16 for the Phoenix (22-9), whose 24 turnovers were converted into 33 points by the Raiders.
“I don’t know whether we turned it over – which we did quite a bit – whether we missed shots, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but it happened and it happened in a hurry,” Green Bay coach Kevin Borseth said. “The key was to really remain composed. I don’t know what happened in that stretch where, well, they scored a lot and we didn’t.”
Green Bay scored the first four points of the second half to open a 46-36 lead, but Demmings scored 11 points, hitting three 3-pointers, to fuel a 13-1 run that put the Raiders up 49-47.
Tesha Buck’s layup brought the Phoenix within 63-61 with 9:35 left, but Demmings’ 3-pointer from the left wing capped a 9-2 run that put the Raiders up 72-63 with 6:46 remaining.
“I knew I had three fouls in the first and I felt down on myself,” said Demmings, a 5-foot-8 junior guard. “My coaches told me to keep my head up, there’s still 20 minutes. I just came out and felt like it was my time.”
The Raiders stayed close in the first half despite having their two leading scorers in foul trouble early, getting hot from beyond the arc. Demmings, averaging 22.6 points, picked up her third foul with 8:57 left in the half. Ivery James, averaging 17.3, was called for third foul with 5:58 left.
“We were about this close to getting run out there in the first half,” Bradbury said. “If we would have panicked or lost our composure, we would have got run out of the gym. They stuck together, they hung together. They were poised, more poised than I was. I’m so happy for them. We played, obviously, extremely well in the second half.”
Bradbury was assessed a technical foul and Ellen Edison made both free throws to put Green Bay up 24-15 with 8:04 remaining in the first half. The Raiders responded with a 10-0 run, going in front 25-24 on KC Elkins’ 3-pointer from the top left.
Green Bay answered with an 11-3 run for a 35-28 lead. Mingo’s 3-pointer, the Raiders’ fifth in the final 6:23 of the half, cut the lead to 39-36, but Kraker buried a 3 from the left corner to put the Phoenix up 42-36 at the break.
“We weren’t too worried about being down,” Mingo said. “All we knew at that point was we’ve got to get some stops, we’ve got to get some stops. We can play defense when we put our mind to it. I think we really buckled down when we needed to and we got some stops and we were definitely scoring.”
The NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket will be revealed at 6 p.m. on Monday.
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