MARQUETTE - The second-half story of a college women's basketball game played Saturday at Northern Michigan University featured an offensive star from each team.
Ohio Dominican sophomore Melissa Scherpenberg scored 17 of her 19 points after halftime to lead the visitors from Columbus, Ohio. But NMU countered with junior Alyssa Colla, who poured in 18 of her game-high 20 points during those final 20 minutes.
In the end, Colla made a pair of free throws with 35 seconds remaining that spelled the difference in the Wildcats' hard-fought 61-59 victory.
Northern Michigan University junior Alyssa Colla, center, pushes her way through Ohio Dominican University freshman Bauren Bates, left, and junior Kacee Hockenberry during the second half of GLIAC play Saturday at the Berry EventsCenter in Marquette. NMU won 61-59. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
NMU improved to 9-1 overall and 6-0 in the GLIAC to remain in a three-way tie for the North Division lead with Michigan Tech and Wayne State. ODU, a member of the South Division, is 4-6 and 1-5, respectively.
"I just started going stronger to the basket in the second half," Colla said about her increased scoring after intermission. "I didn't really have many looks (at the basket) in the first half."
Part of her efficiency was making 10 of 11 free throws.
"We should make our free throws," Colla said. "We shoot a hundred of them every day before and after practice."
The Wildcats made 22 of 30 from the line while the Panthers were 13 of 17. That's a success rate of in the mid-70-percent range for each squad.
What perplexed Northern coach Troy Mattson was Scherpenberg's output in the second half.
"She made, what, three 3-pointers, and I heard she hadn't made one all season," Mattson said. "We put Annie (Rubendunst) back on her and made her move to get her shots."
Northern led almost the entire first half until ODU's Tori Beth Leader drove for a layup at the first-half buzzer to put the Panthers ahead 28-27 at the break.
Scherpenberg scored seven points in the first three minutes of the second half, giving the visitors a 35-31 edge, their biggest lead of the game.
By the time Colla finished scoring 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Wildcats held a 44-41 lead.
Colla's two free throws with 35 seconds left put NMU ahead by a seemingly comfortable 61-57 margin. The Panthers whittled away most of the remaining time looking for a spot to take a shot, which was missed by Scherpenberg.
But teammate Alex Hallenbeck knocked in the putback with 14.4 seconds left to make it 61-59.
Northern junior Lauren Gruber, who finished with 13 points, six rebounds and two steals, was fouled barely a second later, but missed both free throws, giving ODU a chance to tie it or win it in the waning seconds.
The Panthers came out of a timeout with 3.7 seconds left when Leader put up a shot from about 27 or 28 feet that hit the rim. Scherpenberg attempted to tip it back in, but the near-impossible angle left the attempt shy and the Wildcats victorious.
"We showed some resiliency, and that has to be attributed to being in a lot of battles like this the past few years," Mattson said. "The difference for good teams is making a run to win these close games.
"It's a process, and usually that process involves getting beat up early on. We've paid those dues."
Though NMU made far more free throws, a few more 3-pointers and won the turnover battle by four, 15-11, the Wildcats had a hard time shaking ODU after they shot just 28.1 percent from the field (16 of 57).
"We're going to have those ups and downs, but all that matters is that we play aggressively on defense," Gruber said.
One unsung hero was Rubendunst. Even though she missed all five of her shots, she pulled in a team-high eight rebounds, an area of concern for Mattson since leading rebounder Anna Liewen went out with an injury several games ago. Rubendunst's effort allowed NMU to stay almost even on the boards, 42-41.
"She made some key rebounds for us," Mattson said.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.