NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Nothing says excitement quite like a double overtime finish to win a national title. The Ohio Valley Conference saw many teams compete throughout the tournament, but only the Austin Peay Governors would take home the trophy. A team picked to finish ninth in the tournament according to preseason poll of coaches.
Prior to this game, Eastern Illinois had defeated Austin Peay twice in the regular season, both of those wins coming by double digits. Austin Peay had much to prove and they sure answered the call. After leading for much of the game, the Governors found themselves holding on by a shoestring in the final seconds. Eastern fought back to force the game to overtime, but Peay was the victor after outscoring the EIU Panthers 21-17 in the finals 10 minutes.
Ashley Herring led the Lady Govs (17-15) with 21 points while the tournament MVP, April Thomas added 13 points and eight rebounds as Austin Peay won the conference title for the first time since 2004.
“They kept fighting, that’s what they do,” said Austin Peay coach Carrie Daniels.
The two stars did not do it by themselves, as teammate Emily Pollock scored nine of her career-high 13 points in the second overtime, sealing the victory for the Governors.
After starting the month by losing five straight games, Austin Peay remained calm and ended the regular season with an overtime win much like the one against EIU that won them the title. The Governors proved that even during a rebuild they can still win games and more importantly, national titles.
“Nobody thought we’d be here. We knew it was going to be hard, but we fought,” Austin Peay’s April Thomas said.
Rachel Galligan led all scorers with 24 points, shooting a remarkable 12-of-15 from the floor. She was named to the OVC All-Tournament Team for the second year in a row and officially broke the EIU single-season scoring record (with 582 points).
“We got down to the end and the needle was on E,” said Eastern Illinois coach Brady Sallee.
Even with Galligan’s breakout game, the Governors appeared to be in control after taking a four-point lead with 1:12 left in regulation. The Lady Govs then missed four straight free throws, giving Eastern Illinois a fighting chance to get back in it.
Galligan came through with a layup with 7.2 seconds to go to tie the game at 48.
Then things started to get interesting.
Eastern took the lead in the first overtime, but not for long. The duo of Herring and Pollock was just too much for the Panthers.
Herring hit a clutch pullup to get the Lady Govs within 54-52. Pollock answered by stripping EIUs’ Megan Edwards and sprinting to the other end for an easy layup.
Neither team could close out the first overtime. Pollock, however, started the second half with a layup and a 3-pointer of her own to give the Governors the lead.
“It was just adrenaline flowing through me,” said Pollock. “I think we all thought we could do it.”
After the Panthers swept the season series from the Governors during the regular season, this game would be different.
Austin Peay snagged three defensive rebounds from missed attempts by Eastern Illinois to close the game. The next stop for the Lady Govs, the NCAA Tournament.
“We had confidence. We knew it was going to be hard, but we fought,” Thomas said.