Whitman falls to FDU-Florham in National Championship

Whitman senior Tiffani Traver sinks a layup against FDU Florham during the NCAA DIII national championship game Saturday in Stevens Point, Wisc. Whitman lost the game, 80-72.

Whitman senior Tiffani Traver sinks a layup against FDU Florham during the NCAA DIII national championship game Saturday in Stevens Point, Wisc. Whitman lost the game, 80-72. Bill Wyckoff

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STEVENS POINT, Wis. ­— It’s not the outcome the Whitman players had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the Missionaries accomplished something Saturday night it never had in program history: finishing second in all of NCAA Division III women’s basketball.

Whitman had a tough time against Fairleigh Dickinson University’s athletic players. The Missionaries held a 60-57 lead in the national title game, but the Devils went on a 12-2 run and never trailed again as FDU scored an 80-72 victory Saturday night at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse.

Whitman (31-2) was in search of its first national championship, while FDU (33-0) took home its first title.

“We just talked about it in the locker room how we need to not hang our heads about this loss,” Whitman guard Heather Johns said. “We made history at Whitman and … I think we need to be proud of ourselves and what we’ve done.”

Johns was on her game. She scored a game-high 25 points on 10-for-17 shooting. She had almost a one-on-one battle in the first half with FDU’s Kyra Dayon, who tallied 15 first-half points and 18 for the game.

“She’s a great player and she’s really fast,” Johns said about Dayon, who was named the tournament MVP. “She’s tough to guard and we definitely struggled to guard her.”

Every time Whitman needed a big hoop, Johns tried to come through. The junior, who had a career-high 33 points in Whitman’s national semifinal victory Friday, played her best in the two biggest games of her career. Johns was one of five players named to the all-tournament team.

“She just really stepped up all year,” Whitman coach Michelle Ferenz said. “Her scoring has been amazing and teams have to get ready for her. Heather’s had a great year and something to build on.”

Whitman struggled slowing down FDU on the glass. The Devils grabbed 19 offensive rebounds for the second straight game and that translated into 19 second-chance points. FDU also had 21 points off turnovers.

“Part of that was we got out of rotations on trying to help on drives and then we just didn’t get quite back to the ball,” Ferenz said. “We knew that could happen and so we really tried to keep their penetration up front with their guards and we talked about that and for the most part we did a pretty good job.”

Whitman had a great night shooting, nailing 50 percent (27-for-54) of its shot attempts. FDU hit one less field goal, but had 11 more attempts, going 25-for-65 (38.5 percent).

It was a back-and-forth affair most of the game with 11 ties and nine lead changes. Whitman took an early 11-4 cushion by breaking FDU’s press on multiple occasions for easy hoops. FDU picked up the pace and tied the game at 16 as Dayon scored eight points during a 12-3 run.

FDU took its first lead of the game, 21-20, at 8:58, on a Dayon 3-pointer, to put her first-half total to 15 points. But Johns hit a runner in the paint to give Whitman its lead back. The Missionaries then upped their advantage to six, 31-25, on back-to-back baskets from Sarah Anderegg, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. FDU was resilient at the end of the half and tied the game before Whitman took a one-point lead, 33-32, into the break.

Whitman’s Tiffani Traver, who finished with 13 points, nailed back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half to put the Missionaries up 42-37.

“The majority of my 3s tonight were inside out and (FDU players) were trying to help on someone else,” Traver said. “Having teammates that are offensively effective really helps me find an open spot.”

FDU answered with a 13-4 run, and Whitman was down 52-49. The Missionaries took back the lead again as Traver splashed another 3, and it was 59-57 with 8:51 remaining.

FDU responded with a 12-3 run to take a 69-62 lead with 4:21 left. A Johns basket pulled Whitman to 70-66, but the Missionaries couldn’t get any closer than that. FDU hit 12 of 15 free throws in the final 6:49 of the game. Jalessa Lewis hit 11 free throws and registered a team-high 21 points for FDU.

“I thought our kids did a great job battling and we just couldn’t quite bridge the gap,” Ferenz said. “It was a great game, it was a great championship. Historic for us to get here. We’ve set all sorts of records at Whitman College for women’s basketball, so I’m very proud of this team.”

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