GRANTHAM — The Messiah women’s basketball team earned their first trip to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 Saturday night with a come-from-behind 62-49 victory over Emory and Henry at the Jordan Center.
The Falcons play next weekend at a site and time to be determined. Their opponent will be Tufts, a 61-39 victor over Ithaca.
It’s Messiah’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2013.
“This team gave me the best gift they can give a coach, another week of time together,” Falcons coach Mike Miller said.
Maci Thornton led the Falcons with 20 points while Leah Springer (Camp Hill) added 17 and six rebounds. Hoff added 12 before sitting out the final five minutes after taking an elbow to the nose. Kristan Smoluk added five steals and eight points for the Falcons.
“I didn’t really have any agenda coming in,” Miller said, “just wanted to see what the defense gave us and we tried to take advantage of it. We win and Alecia [Rohrer] only scores three points. That shows the depth of our team.”
Down 29-27 after the first half, a huge 3 by Kaitlyn Hoff to open the second half seemed to ignite the Falcons. They hit 9-of-16 shots, including 3-of-4 from the arc to outscore the Wasps 22-11 in the quarter. Messiah went on a 27-8 run that gave them an 11-point lead.
“I was struggling with my outside shot and I was so happy to see that shot go in,” Hoff said. “We didn’t move the ball so well in the second quarter but that was one of the things coach said at the half — we were only down two despite that second quarter. Maci has played so well in this tournament — shooting and handling the ball, as well as her energy.”
Messiah, which went unbeaten in their inaugural season in the Jordan Center, jumped out of the gates quickly with an 8-2 lead.
The Wasps, who were making their initial foray in the NCAA tournament, rallied with a 10-2 run to take a 12-11 lead. A short jumper by Hoff and a 3-pointer by Thornton gave the Falcons a 16-12 first quarter lead.
A bucket by Hoff gave them a six-point lead before the Falcon shots stopped falling and the Wasps shot fell. The Wasps went on a 17-1 run to take a 29-19 lead with two minutes left in the second quarter.
Kara Stafford and Laken Blackburn split 12 points and Chloe Harris added two other buckets for the Wasps, off the bench.
Messiah (27-2) scored the final eight points of the half on five by Springer and a 3-pointer by Thornton.
“We made a good first-half run but not so good of a second half,” Wasps coach Anne Crutchfield said. “Messiah is so active with their hands and are so well-coached, they could make very deep run in this tournament.”
The Falcons hit 9-of-10 foul shots in a nine-point run in the fourth quarter to get the final margin.
“We forced 26 turnovers and had 18 steals. That tells you how active we were on defense tonight — only 11 turnovers and two in the second half,” Miller said.
Stafford led the Wasps (23-7) with 14 points, and Sydney McKinney added 12.