COLUMBUS, Ohio— Drury’s remarkable season that saw them advance to the NCAA-II Elite Eight with an undefeated record came to an end Wednesday night in the national semifinals in a 69-60 loss to Lubbock Christian at Alumni Hall in Columbus, Ohio.
The Chaparrals, seeded fifth in the Elite Eight, advance to the national championship game with a 31-5 record while the top-ranked Lady Panthers season ends with a 35-1 mark.
After falling behind 4-0 early, Lubbock Christian held Drury scoreless for more than six minutes of the opening period and never trailed again after taking a 6-4 lead and a 12-8 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
For only the second time all year, the Lady Panthers trailed at halftime as the Lady Chaps owned a 27-22 lead at the intermission and Drury faced their only their second double-digit deficit of the season down 50-39 after three quarters. The margin was Drury’s largest deficit they’ve faced in the second half in any game this season.
The Lady Panthers chipped away and pulled within five points of the lead twice in the final quarter. With 5:29 remaining, Drury had two shots to pull within a possession of the lead as Payton Richards came up empty on 15-foot attempt left of the lane, and even though the Lady Panthers snared the offensive rebound, an errant pass would give Lubbock Christian back the ball.
Drury pulled within five points of the lead again with 2:30 left on a put-back basket by Daejah Bernard but the Lady Chaps responded with a made bucket in the lane by Maddie Chitsey 20 seconds later, and the Lady Panthers were never that close again.
Drury forced Lubbock Christian into 29 turnovers, but it never seemed to translate into momentum as the Lady Chaps shot 52 percent from the field hitting 22 of 42 shots. The Lady Panthers shot just 36 percent going 21 for 58, and they were 5 for 21 from three-point range.
“This was a good basketball team,” said Drury head coach Molly Miller of Lubbock Christian. “Their experience in the Elite Eight showed up tonight, and I think that was a difference.”
The Lady Chaps were playing in their third Elite Eight in four years, and the program won a national championship in 2016.
“It’s hard to go into our locker room and see those faces,” said Miller, who ended her fifth season as Drury’s head coach with a 148-17 career record. “I’ve seen all the hard work this group has done first hand. They’re great basketball players and great human beings. My biggest fear in all this is that they would think that what we’ve done isn’t good enough and that they’re a disappointment. Those kids are far from a disappointment. I’m proud of them. They are resilient, and they are fighters.”
During the game, Drury guard Daejah Bernard set a team record for single-season steals passing Kara Rutledge’s total of 133 in the 2003-04 season. Bernard had six steals in the game and finished with 137 for the season.
Hailey Diestelkamp also set a Lady Panthers record as she broke the mark for single-season rebounds. She eclipsed the number set by Melanie Oliver in 2009-10 with her 312th rebound as the junior from Owensville had seven boards in the game to finish the year with 316.
Diestelkamp led all scorers in the game with 18 points while Paige Robinson put in 10 for Drury.
Four Lubbock Christian players reached double-figures as Maddi Chitsey had 17, Olivia Robertson scored 15, Allie Schulte added 13 while Bobbi Chitsey contributed another 11.
Drury finishes the year with their best winning percentage in program history as their 35-1 record translated to a .972 mark. Their 35 wins are the second-most in team history behind only Drury’s national runner-up team of 2003-04 that went 36-2 and this season marked the Lady Panthers third straight 30-win season.
“This is a special group, and I think that’s the reason why we’re so upset,” said Diestelkamp. “We had a blast this year, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have spent the year with anybody else.”
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all of our fans,” added Miller. “Springfield and the Drury community came all the way to Columbus for us, and that was amazing. We have great fans and a lot of people that help make the student-athlete experience at Drury special. All of that is greatly appreciated.”
In addition to their 35-1 record, Drury won the Great Lakes Valley Conference championship going 18-0 in the league’s regular season. The Lady Panthers won the GLVC tournament title for the third straight year and won their fourth NCAA-II regional championship in team history. Wednesday’s game marked the second time Drury has ever advanced to the national semifinals.