'Dores top Quinnipiac 75-74 in final seconds

Abysmal. Stunning. Pick an adjective to describe the heart-pounding turn of events Thursday in Hamden, Conn., when Vanderbilt (9-1) used a pair of huge free throws to edge a surprising Quinnipiac (2-5) squad 75-74.

That this game's outcome would hang on two buckets by a 50% free throw shooter who kicked herself mentally after missing key shots against Western Kentucky in a game that went into overtime – this was redemption.

With Vandy up 73-71 on a tie-breaking jumper by Jence Rhoads, Hannah Tuomi was fouled fighting for a rebound. Stepping up to the line, she hit the front end for a 3-point lead; as fate would have it, the second shot was critical. She iced it with 6.5 seconds to go, and the Bobcats' Kathleen Neyens sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer to fall one short after leading the game by as much as 16 points. The Bobcats led for 26 minutes before Vandy pulled ahead temporarily.

Down on herself after Vandy's OT win on Sunday, the Thornton, Colo., junior did what Hannah has done since her freshman days. She put extra time in the gym to get better. Vanderbilt Head Coach Melanie Balcomb praised her work ethic, saying "She'll work on it and get it back."

Other Commodores worked, too, to get this game back. Jence and Merideth Marsh, each with 17, hit key buckets in the final 14 minutes as the lead changed 13 times with 9 ties. Freshman Tiffany Clarke equaled a career high 14 points and snagged 9 rebounds to just miss a double-double.

Coach Balcomb was pleased with the will to win as thoughts of visions of UC-Riverside danced in her head. "Every night everyone's giving us different minutes. I like the fight. They didn't let this get away. Tiffany came out big. She wanted the ball and was a force down low."

But the No. 17th ranked Commodores played pitifully in the first half, as cold as the winter breeze blowing outside and the university's hockey rink next door. This was the first time Quinnipiac had hosted a nationally ranked team; their two wins came over New Hampshire and Morgan State, not exactly powerhouse programs. Yet the Bobcats ripped out to a 29-13 lead and hit their first four 3-pointers. They led at the half 41-34, but Vandy sprinted to a 15-0 run after the break to begin exchanging leads with 14:33 minutes to go. Vanderbilt outscored Quinnipiac 41-33 for the win.

Saying no teams are overlooked on the road, Coach Balcomb commented, "We were lucky to come out on top with how we came out in the second half. All these teams can play."

Vanderbilt's next game is December 20 against Nashville's Tennessee State University as the student athletes take a study break for finals.

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