Cardinals win Hoopfest Thanksgiving Classic opener

By RENALDO DORSETT

Tribune Sports Reporter

rdorsett@tribunemedia.net

The opening game of The Bahamas Hoopfest Thanksgiving Classic featured a thrilling finish that went down to the final possession and set the tone for several days of exciting NCAA Women’s Basketball.

Anna Clephane’s rebound and putback as time expired lifted the Ball State Cardinals to a 54-52 win over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in the opening game last night at Baha Mar Convention Centre.

Jasmine Samz led Ball State with 11 points, Thelma Dis Agustsdottir 10, Clephane scored eight and Sydney Freeman finished with seven.

Cameryn Benz led Lehigh with 20 points and 10 rebounds - both game highs - Claire Steele scored 10 and Megan Walker scored eight.

Lehigh fell to 5-1 after their first loss of the season while Ball State improved to 4-2.

The Cardinals took a 22-15 lead after the first quarter, but both teams struggled in the second as Ball State failed to score and Lehigh managed just two.

Neither team led by more than seven points, and Ball State used a 12-0 run to take a 38-31 lead in the early stages of the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals led 51-47 with 21 seconds left to play before the Mountain Hawks made a late charge. Benz made a layup to trim the deficit to two.

After Lehigh split a pair at the line, Benz would also split her pair and Ball State led 52-50 with 10 seconds left.

Ball State would miss both ensuing free throws and Steele earned a trip to the line on her drive to the basket. She would make both to tie the game and set the tone for the dramatic finish.

Additional teams at the tournament include Arkansas, Fordham and Wisconsin as the event continues through November 30.

The slate continues today with an early bout seeing Arkansas face Fordham (4pm) followed by Ball State taking on Wisconsin (7pm).

On Saturday, Fordham returns to take on Lehigh in the final day’s opening action before the event concludes with a showdown between “Power 5” foes Wisconsin and Arkansas.

In addition to hosting five teams over the course of the three-day event, the Bahamas Hoopfest intends to celebrate one of the most iconic names in Bahamian basketball - Waltiea Rolle, the first Bahamian drafted into the WNBA.

Said event co-founder, Dr Simeon Hinsey: “This is the first time multiple collegiate women’s basketball teams of this magnitude will be competing in the Bahamas’ capital city of Nassau. So, we are very excited about seeing our vision of this event come to fruition. This event not only gives the teams an opportunity to compete against some tough competition, but it also gives them a chance to learn about a new culture and showcase their talents to young girls from The Bahamas who may one day want to follow in their footsteps.”

Marvin Henfield, the event’s other co-founder, said the event continues along the lines of the development in the local women’s game.

“This is the second pillar in our three-pillar approach to the sustainability of women’s basketball. This past May we did 11 weeks of training for girls, that’s the development. This is the exposure, where they are allowed to see something they have never seen and the third pillar is the play side. After another training session, this summer we will have the first women’s developmental summer league to produce more players like Waltiea.”