Feb 26, 2013
Charlotte, N.C. — All season long, Saint Augustine’s University has been led by a young cast of players. The Lady Falcons placed four players on the All-CIAA Rookie team with CIAA rookie of the year Regime McCombs (Fr./Greenville, S.C.) leading the way.
But on Tuesday at the CIAA Tournament, the Lady Falcons relied on a veteran player to carry them through the first round. Autumn Smith-Faulkner (Sr./Charlotte, N.C.), playing in her hometown, stepped up when teammates needed her, scoring a career-high 21 points to lift the Lady Falcons to a 67-63 victory over Chowan University to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals at Time Warner Cable Arena. The win snapped a three-game losing streak, but more importantly, gave the Lady Falcons the belief they can make some noise in the tournament.
“It’s win or go home and I just didn’t want to go home,” Smith-Faulkner said. “It’s my last time here. After this, it’s over, so we just have to fight for the entire game.”
Smith-Faulkner, named Food Lion MVP of the game, came through for the Lady Falcons in the first half when they really needed her. She reached her previous career high of 15 points in the first half to keep the Lady Falcons afloat when the young players were adjusting to their first league tournament game. Her red-hot shooting (8-for-12 including 3-for-4 three pointers) kept the Lady Falcons in the game even though they were being outplayed in the first half by a Chowan squad (5-21) which won only five games this season including one against the Lady Falcons earlier in the year.
“I think Autumn realizes that it’s win or go home,” St. Aug Head Coach Rachel Bullard said. “It’s over if we lose. So I think that she said, I’ll put you all on my back. She recognizes that we are young and this is our first time here, and it can be a scary place if it’s your first time playing here in this arena. So she put everyone on her back and said let’s roll and they did exactly that.”
The Lady Falcons needed Smith-Faulkner until they settled down. Smith-Faulkner, one of two seniors on the squad, got in foul trouble midway in the second half, but the Lady Falcons found their groove by then. Led by the fearless play of playmaking guard Porscha Walton (Fr./Chesterfield), who scored 12 of her 17 points in the second half, the Lady Falcons erased a seven-point halftime deficit (36-29) and outscored the Hawks down the stretch after the score was tied at 49 with over eight minutes left.
“I followed Autumn’s lead,” Walton said. “I’ll follow her any day. The rest of our team will, too.”
The Lady Falcons looked more like themselves in the second half, aggressively driving in the paint and forcing turnovers. Players were looking to either dish to the open shooter or make the extra pass inside once they drove the lane. Ebony Spencer (Jr./Chesapeake, Va.), Jasmine Cuffee (So./Norfolk, Va.), Jeanne-Marie Wilson (Fr./Temple Hills, Md.) and Lakiya Rouse (Fr./Greensboro, N.C.) all made nice passes to open teammates.
Coach Bullard also experimented with a different lineup, going with mostly guards on the floor in the second half to match up against the Hawks’ talented backcourt led by All-CIAA player Talaya Lynch. She and Janelle Murphy (both scored 13 points) tried to prevent the Lady Falcons’ onslaught in the second half, but the Lady Falcons were rolling at that point. The Lady Falcons outscored the Hawks 38-27 in the second half.
After Wilson and Smith-Faulkner combined to hit four free throws with less than one minute left to clinch the win, the Lady Falcons were giddy once the horn sounded. They laughed and posed for pictures, finally soaking in the moment after a tight contest. In the locker room afterwards, St. Aug President Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber praised the team for their comeback.
Rouse added nine points and added six rebounds while Wilson scored seven points for the Lady Falcons, who outshot the Hawks 52 percent to 34 percent in the second half. Danielle Coleman added 13 points for the Hawks. Walton, at 5-6, led the Lady Falcons with seven rebounds while Smith-Faulkner added six rebounds and two steals. Terri Jacobs (Fr./McDonough, Ga.), McCombs and Cuffee also added two steals each.
Elizabeth City State awaits the Lady Falcons in the quarterfinal round. The Lady Vikings are big and talented. In their only meeting this season, they defeated the Lady Falcons 70-57 in Elizabeth City, N.C. The Lady Falcons are entering the second matchup with momentum, however, thanks to their senior, Smith-Faulkner.