Lady Panthers open NCAA, D-II Tourney with 31-point win


SPRINGFIELD, Mo.— The number one ranked Drury Lady Panthers, playing short-handed due to a one-game suspension to a pair of their top six players, utilized the word “team” in running away from Kentucky Wesleyan 88-57 in their first-round game of the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional tournament at the O’Reilly Family Event Center in Springfield, Missouri on Friday evening.

The Lady Panthers improved to a perfect 32-0 for the season and were minus regulars Paige Robinson and Emily Parker, who were required to miss the contest following an infraction in the championship game of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Drury called upon several role players to pick up the slack and they so, impressively.

While junior All-America candidate Hailey Diestelkamp paced the Lady Panthers with a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double effort, it was the work of her teammates that told the story. Sophomore Azia Lynch powered in 20 points off the bench to match Diestelkamp’s scoring while senior Lucia Fernandez added 13 and sophomore Payton Richards in 34 minutes of floor time chipped in 10, as did junior Brooke Stanfield, with Richards also posting a double-double with 10 assists as well.

“It felt great out there,” said Richards. “When you’re playing on your home court, in front of a great crowd, there’s nothing better than playing like this with girls like this.”

“I’m really proud of these kids because we didn’t have a lot of depth, to say the least,” said Molly Miller, Drury head coach. “For us to step up was big and our reserves today just did so well, this was a true team effort if ever I’ve seen one.”

Kentucky Wesleyan, who ended its season 24-8, jumped in front 5-4 in the opening minutes of the game, but Lady Panthers exploded for 15 straight points to grab control and rolled to a 26-9 cushion over Wesleyan after the first period of play. Drury’s first-half lead ballooned to 27 over the Panthers before heading into halftime, up 47-22 as they forced Kentucky Wesleyan into 14 first-half turnovers. Drury’s largest lead of the contest was 40 points at 78-38 before a late scoring surge by KWU trimmed the final margin to 31.

“It was a big game for us,” said Diestelkamp. “I think during the season there were a lot of doubters about us, but we take games, game-by-game, and this was huge for us, especially being down two players.”

After a red-hot shooting start, the Lady Panthers cooled off and finished hitting 34 of 69 shots for 49 percent for the game, they outrebounded Kentucky Wesleyan 40-26, forced a total of 25 turnovers for the game, including 16 steals.

Kaylee Clifford topped the Kentucky Wesleyan scoring with 12 points, Jasmine Shelt added 11 and Keelie Lamb contributed 10.

Drury advances to the semifinal round of the Midwest Regional and will play the winner of the final first-round game between fourth-seed Ashland and fifth-seed Northern Michigan in a 7:30 game on Saturday evening. The first game of the semifinal round will feature second-seed Lewis against third-seed Grand Valley State at 5:00 pm.