An all-around effort from The College of Wooster women's basketball team, sparked by a commanding first period of play, had the Fighting Scots in contention late, but a second-half offensive push paired with lockdown defense from Hiram College propelled the Terriers to a 72-60 win on Wednesday evening inside Price Gymnasium at Hiram, Ohio.
Junior Mercedes Jones of Hiram (7-2, 2-2 North Coast Athletic Conference) posted a double-double to lead all scorers with 25 points and 12 rebounds, with 17 of her 25 coming in the second half. The six-foot center also proved clutch from the line, going 9-for-11 from the foul line on the day.
For three-quarters of the match, the chips were falling in favor of Wooster (1-6, 0-2 NCAC), as the Scots jutted out to an 18-8 lead after the opening period while ultimately maintaining a one-point advantage heading into the final 10 minutes of play.
Senior Natalie Coschigano and first-year Cat Fiorito, who finished with a season-best 10 points, set the defensive tone early, swatting rejections on Hiram's first two possessions while forcing Terrier turnovers in the lower block to help lift Wooster to a spirited 4-0 lead through the opening 3:47.
After a steal and layup from Hiram's Kaylee Shockley at the 4:01 mark, the Scots posted eight unanswered points as part of an extended 12-4 run to close out the first period of play with an 18-8 advantage.
But Hiram responded with a 9-0 run of its own, as field goals from Dana Perrotta and Clover Kaple trimmed the deficit to within seven while Jones continued to pound the paint, earning back-to-back trips to the free-throw line where she connected on all four opportunities to get the Terriers back to within three with 6:42 left in the half.
After a 3-pointer from Fiorito and two made free throws from senior Rachel Collins, the Terriers went on an 8-0 spurt in a span of 3:03 to even the score at 25. Gibbs responded on the next possession, again showing off her mid-range capabilities to retake the lead as Wooster eventually held on to a 31-27 advantage heading into the halftime break.
Second-half shooting made the difference in the game as Hiram took its first lead of the game with 2:19 left in the third quarter off a 3-pointer from Perrotta to give the Terriers a 44-43 advantage.
In the final two periods, Hiram shot 53.3 percent (16-for-30) from the field while taking 20 trips to the foul line, while forcing the Scots to just 27.8 percent from the field on 10-for-36 shooting.
Wooster didn't bow out without a fight, however, as Gibbs continued to barrel the lane, earning the Scots three valuable points from the charity stripe while Mandych tacked on a jumper to give Wooster a one-point lead at the quarter's end.
In the fourth, Jones got the Terriers back into the lead with a tip-in from the right side of the basket, as Hiram seized its advantage throughout the remainder of the game.
First-year Kylie Orr, who finished with four steals, three points, and three assists, showed off her handles and passing ability to keep the Scots in the thick of things as she found Coschigano, who showed a deft touch with a tear dropper from close range to get the Scots back within two at 54-52 with 7:10 remaining.
But a 7-2 Terriers' run seemingly put a lid on Wooster's chances, as the Terriers effectively closed the game out to take the conference tilt 72-60.
After seeing their 10-point first quarter advantage minimized to one after the end of the third period, the Scots were outscored 25-12 by Hiram in the fourth. All of Wooster's starters tallied at least four points in the final two periods, as Gibbs led with seven followed by junior Aki Shurelds with six.
Gibbs led all Scots with 17 points and five steals, while Collins led with eight points off the bench on 2-for-6 shooting while going a perfect 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.
Wooster returns to action on Saturday, Dec. 10, as the Scots get set to host conference foe DePauw University (7-1, 3-0 NCAC) at 1 p.m.