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SMC Basketball: Kessler hits free throws, vaults Belles to win

Joe Meixell | Monday, January 30, 2006

With six seconds left in the game and the Belles down one to visiting Tri-State Saturday, Saint Mary’s guard Allison Kessler made two free throws to cement the win.

Late in the second half, the Thunder had made an incredible comeback, going from down as many as 13 in the second half to up four points with 25 seconds to go in the game.

The player most responsible for the comeback was Tri-State senior Kayla Cheesman, who scored seven straight Thunder points late in the second half.

However, with 12 seconds in the game and the ball in Tri-State’s hands for an inbounds pass, Cheesman passed the ball out of bounds on the sideline, giving the Belles the ball with plenty of time left to win it.

The two biggest contributors in the win were forward Erin Newsom and Kessler, who has played superbly in the last two weeks.

Newsom was a huge force on the inside, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine boards. Kessler led Saint Mary’s in scoring with 18 points, including the crucial game-winning free throws at the end of the game.

This game is the perfect example of the mental toughness that coach Steve Bender stress as one of the team’s primary strengths.

Although the Belles may have been too relaxed in most of the second half, allowing the Thunder to come back and eventually pull ahead, the Belles regained their composure as the game was winding down.

“Mental toughness was a very big part of the win,” said senior captain Bridget Boyce, who added 10 points in the win. “We couldn’t have won without it. There was a way to win and we found it.”

By playing sold defense and getting the shots it needed, Saint Mary’s showed the kind of mental strength needed to win close games, a skill that will benefit the Belles greatly with big games against Calvin and Olivet next week and the MIAA tournament less than a month away.

The Belles have now won four of their last five games, a stretch that has also kept the Belles in the top half of the MIAA standings for the first time in five years, as well as their first .500 season in a long time.

The Belles have five regular season games remaining, and currently are 9-11 overall; however, they are 7-4 in the MIAA and fourth place in the conference.

“We have so many freshman and new players who have matured,” Boyce said. “We’ve got more confidence and are playing smarter basketball thanks to our experience, and it’s helped us win games.”