BILLINGS — Rachelle Sayers has all the confidence in the world in her freshmen. Thursday evening was proof why.
Jaidyn Lyman scored a game-high 19 points and had three rebounds and two assists, leading the Carroll College women past William Penn (Iowa) 55-49 in the opening round of the NAIA women’s national basketball tournament. The Fighting Saints rallied from a two-point deficit, outscoring the Statesmen 18-10 in the final quarter.
“We kept talking about ‘stick to what we do, keep grinding it out.’ We felt like we had a bigger bench and we could go to that bench, I thought they played critical minutes,” said Sayers. “If we could just keep it close we could grind it out and obviously Jaidyn Lyman hit some big shots. She was huge for us, and that’s what it takes at this tournament. People are going to be ready for your main players, they’ve scouted all your stuff and it’s the complimentary players stepping up in the moment, and Jaidyn was unbelievable.”
Lyman went 7-14 from the floor, hitting five 3-pointers for Sayers’ club, which improved to 25-7 on the year. Hannah Dean added 11 points and four rebounds, while dishing out three assists and nabbing two steals. Fellow post Michaela Dowdy was two points shy of a double-double, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds.
Neither team shot particularly well in the contest, with Carroll hitting 38 percent from the field, William Penn 35 percent, but the Saints forced 19 Statesmen turnovers and went 11-18 from the free throw line. Each team started strong, scoring 19 points in the opening quarter, but the offense trailed off from there.
Carroll trailed 28-24 at halftime before cutting the deficit to 39-37 entering the fourth quarter. The Saints advance to Friday’s second round against the winner of Vanguard (Calif.) and Bethel (Tenn.). Those two teams didn’t tip off until nearly 10 p.m. Thursday evening, the final game of the night at Rimrock Auto Arena.
Thursday’s win was extra special for Sayers, who saw her club bow out of last season’s national tournament after the opening round.
“It’s so satisfying because it’s this team. We started the season losing our returning all-American (Cassidy Hashley) and then we lose our starting 2-guard (Sara Chalich) to an ACL injury before we’ve even played a game. We were picked fourth (in the conference) on top of it,” said Sayers, “so I don’t think anyone thought that this team would do the things they did. To come away with the conference championship, tournament championship and coming down here to win a game, this team has meant so much to me this year.”