BLUEFIELD, Va. — Overtime appeared imminent. Danae Cox decided 40 minutes of basketball was enough.
Cox grabbed her own miss on a 3-point attempt and hit a runner at the buzzer to lead Bluefield College to a hard-fought 70-68 Appalachian Athletic Conference opening win over Columbia on Tuesday evening at the Dome Gymnasium.
It doesn’t get any easier this week for Bluefield (3-2, 2-1), which will host NAIA No. 24 Milligan on Thursday and will travel to Point, which is receiving votes in the national polls, on Saturday.
“Hopefully this is motivation,” Bluefield head coach Corey Mullins said. “The next two are against ranked teams, it is going to be tough. We will get back at it tomorrow and we will come up with a plan for Thursday night and get ready to go.”
Columbia (0-3, 0-1), which shot 54.5 percent from the field in the opening half, scored the final six points of the second quarter to take a 44-36 lead into the break, led by Imani Parr, who had 14 of her 17 points prior to halftime. That margin was still at 52-47 with 5:40 left in the third period when the Rams picked up the pressure on defense. BC held the Koalas to 24 points in the second half.
“We were fortunate at the beginning of the third quarter that they missed a couple of shots right around the rim,” Mullins said. “I am a little concerned about that because that means they had to give us something to play for. I hope we can come out from here on out ready to go. Forty-four points in a half for us is disappointing.”
The duo of Emily Hart and Kierra Bell-Linnear combined for 15 of Bluefield’s 24 third quarter points, outscoring the Koalas 13-3 over the final 4:20 and built the lead to eight, at 63-55, on a 3-point shot by Tazewell product Autumn Hash to open the final period. Parr’s 3 helped pull Columbia to within 63-60, but the next field goal for the suddenly cold shooting visitors from Columbia, S.C. didn’t come until there was less than a minute left to play.
Parr, who canned four 3s, also had 11 rebounds and three assists for Columbia. Victoria Williams added 13 points on a trio of 3s and Alana Weyer tallied 11 points and six boards in the loss.
“We were responded, we were fortunate, we were lucky enough,” Mullins said. “We left some free throws out there, we left a couple of shots around the rim out there to put them away. Give Columbia all the credit in the world, they played really, really hard. That rematch at their place is going to be really, really tough for us, but (we’re) very fortunate, very thankful we got a win tonight.”
Bell-Linnear, who had 14 points and five boards, put Bluefield up 68-63 with a nice move to the hoop before the Koalas kept it close on a pair of free throws by Denijah Johnson, who finished with 15 points. It was also Johnson who tied the score at 68 with a 3 with 32.4 seconds on the clock.
Bluefield got the final shot on a 3 by Cox that missed its mark, but she collected the rebound and put up a shot right before the buzzer sounded. The ball hit the backboard and went through the hoop for the win.
“We were fortunate we got that offensive rebound,” Mullins said. “I didn’t think we controlled the boards all night, but we got that one bounce and she stepped up and made a play. Great for her and great for our team to get out of here with a win.”
Princeton product Hannah Preservati led all scorers with 18 points, including four 3s, along with five assists, while Hart had 11 points and Cox finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Hash added eight points and eight boards off the bench for the Rams.