ITHACA, N.Y. - The finest season in Haverford College women's basketball history came to a close on Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament as the Fords fell 54-43 to host Ithaca College.
Competing in the national tournament for the first time in program history, Haverford (24-4) aimed to leave Ben Light Gymnasium with a ticket to the Sweet 16 but the Bombers (25-4) hung on to register their 17th consecutive victory of the season.
Saturday's contest started off slowly as the two conference champions probed each other's defense to see what open looks would be available.
Ithaca senior Mary Kate Tierney, the most valuable player of the Empire 8 conference tournament, gave the hosts a 10-8 lead on a jumper with eight minutes to go until the break.
The Fords then rattled off seven straight points to move ahead by five (15-10) with a little over five minutes to go in the half. Back-to-back three-pointers from senior Cara Wyant and junior Jacquelyne Pizzuto keyed the surge.
Senior Kathryn Campbell interrupted the Haverford run with a jumper but Wyant delivered once again from behind the arc to give the Fords their largest lead of the game (18-12) with 4:48 left on the first-half clock.
Haverford's defense continued to frustrate the Bombers who entered the contest averaging almost 70 points a game. The Fords had an opportunity to go ahead by five at the break after forcing Ithaca into a shot-clock violation in the final minute but the Bombers' defense stood tall. Campbell then beat the first-half buzzer to move Ithaca within one (22-21) at intermission.
Junior Shannon Smith was an integral part of Haverford's defensive effort in the opening 20 minutes as she registered three of the Fords' four first-half blocks. While Smith was patrolling the paint effectively, Haverford was also doing a great job locking down the perimeter as it limited Tierney, who owns the Bombers' program record for three-pointers, to just one attempt from long distance.
A free throw from Smith provided the fourth tie of the night (23-23) with 16-plus minutes to go in the game. Campbell went 2-for-2 from the line on Ithaca's ensuing possession to give her squad a lead it would never relinquish despite a determined effort by the Fords.
The Bombers had erupted for 46 second-half points in their first-round victory over The Sage Colleges and they looked to repeat the feat on Saturday but the Fords would have none of it. Haverford continued to battle and each time Ithaca tried to pull away the Centennial Conference champions responded. Six straight points from Elizabeth Lynch helped the Fords stay within striking distance (36-32) with eight minutes left in regulation.
Wyant's fourth three-pointer of the night cut the Bombers' advantage to three (40-37) at 5:27. The Fords looked to continue the rally after forcing a turnover on Ithaca's next possession but the visitors went cold from the floor as they missed their next six shots helping the Bombers push their lead to double figures (48-37) with two minutes to go in the game.
Aiming to extend their record-setting season, Haverford started sending Ithaca to the free throw line. The extra possessions helped the Fords come within single digits (51-43) one final time on Pallavi Juneja's three-pointer with 51 ticks left on the game clock but time ran out on the Haverford rally.
Playing in the final game of her career, Wyant paced the Fords with 14 points to go along with six rebounds and two blocks. The senior forward, who ranks fifth all-time in career three-point field goal percentage (.314), went 4-for-6 from long distance on the night.
Lynch reached double figures for the 21st time on the season with 10 points while senior Nina Voith tallied a team-high seven rebounds. Voith, who scored a game-high 16 points in the Fords' first NCAA tournament victory in program history against Rhode Island College on Friday, graduates as the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,411 career points while also ranking in the top 10 in several other statistical categories.
Tierney led the Bombers with 19 points and 11 rebounds while classmate Jenn Escobido also registered a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Playing in the NCAA tournament for the 10th time in the last 14 seasons, Ithaca advances to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive year where a matchup against Amherst College (26-3) awaits.
Saturday's game also capped the careers of Rachel Baskin and Hope Rainey, who joined forces with Voith and Wyant and the rest of the 2013-14 roster to help the Fords author an extraordinary campaign that included the first NCAA tournament victory and Centennial title in program history, new records for conference (15) and overall wins (24) and many other program firsts while providing the Haverford faithful with many indelible memories.