STORRS, Conn. | Georgia came all the way back from a 10-point second half deficit Sunday, before running out of gas in a 67-57 loss to Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Erika Ford had 16 points to lead Georgia, which finishes the season at 20-12. Merritt Hempe added 13 points and Krista Donald finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“I felt like, we had detrimental turnovers and overall, we beat ourselves,” said Donald. “Yes, they’re a good team, but we were not ready to battle.”
Erin Shields had 18 points and seven rebounds to lead ninth-seeded Saint Joseph’s. Ashley Robinson had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks, who won in the tournament for the first time in 14 years.
“Our kids played with a lot of intensity and emotion,” said Hawks coach Cindy Griffin. “With each shot we made, we got more and more confident.”
Saint Joseph’s led by eight points at halftime and was up 42-32 early in the second half after a 3-pointer by Robinson.
But the Bulldogs got back into the game with a 14-4 run.
A foul shot by Merritt Hempe tied the game at 46, and a 3-point shot by Tiaria Griffin midway through the half gave Georgia a 50-49 lead.
That was the Lady Bulldogs only lead of the second half.
Hempe fouled on the other end after a made basket by Cloud, giving the ball back to Saint Joseph’s. Robinson was then fouled and hit two free throws, part of a 10-0 run that put the Hawks back up by nine.
“During that period, we just dissolved,” said Georgia coach Andy Landers. “We didn’t defend very well. We didn’t go after loose balls or rebound very well. That’s how we lost the lead that we fought so hard to get.”
A jumper by Cloud made it 65-54 with less than 4 minutes left and Georgia could not mount another challenge.
The Hawks shot 46 percent from the floor and held Georgia to just 34 percent. Saint Joseph’s got off to a quick start, using a 10-4 run to take a 17-9 lead.
Georgia cut the deficit to three points on a jumper by Ford. But the Hawks scored the final five points of the half and took a 38-30 lead into intermission.
Saint Joseph’s was one of three Atlantic 10 teams in the tournament and the last one standing.
The Bulldogs started the season with 11 straight wins and were ranked as high as No. 15 in the nation. But they went 0-4 to start the Southeastern Conference season and finished in a five-way tie for sixth place.
“Did we win some games and beat some teams? Yeah,” Landers said. “But did we mature and grow to the point I would have like to have seen us? No. I’d like to see us tougher than we are now.”