Eagle women fall short in season opener

Keisy Villanueva posted a double-double in her collegiate debut (photo courtesy of Greg Rowland)
Keisy Villanueva posted a double-double in her collegiate debut (photo courtesy of Greg Rowland)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (November 2, 2019) – In a battle of top ten Region 8 women's basketball teams, No. 5 Daytona State College held off No. 6 Tallahassee Community College, 63-61, in Saturday's season opener for both squads. 

Saturday marked the debut for head coach Matt Huddleston, hired in August to succeed Franqua "Q" Bedell, as well as eight freshmen, all playing their first games at the collegiate level. 

Tallahassee trailed much of the second half and faced a 60-53 deficit with 2:53 left but rallied and had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds. 

Briana Chambers' three drew the Eagles within four, 60-56, with 2:08 left. After three consecutive stops on the defensive end, Rita James stepped to the line and hit both shots to cut the deficit to 60-58 with 58 seconds remaining. 

On the ensuing possession, Daytona State committed its 30th turnover, but Tallahassee couldn't connect on three field goal attempts, including a pair of would-be go-ahead three-pointers. After a pair of free throws extended the Falcons' lead back to four, Huddleston called a timeout, advanced the ball and drew up a perfect inbounds play that yielded a quick three from Kyra Smith to bring the Eagles within a point. 

Daytona State's Kiani Westbrook hit one of two free throws to make the margin two with 3.8 seconds left. Following another timeout, James found Smith cutting down the lane but she couldn't connect as the buzzer sounded. 

Despite the outcome on the scoreboard, Huddleston saw lots of encouraging signs from his young squad. 

"There were a lot of positives on the defensive side of the ball," said Huddleston. "We kept their shooting percentage low, rebounding-wise, we hung with a team that had greater size and experience. Offensively, we saw some flashes of what we want to do – we had 77 shot attempts to their 59 – but we need get more of them to fall." 

The Eagles held Daytona State to just 30.5 percent (18-of-59) shooting for the game and matched the Falcons with 52 total rebounds but hit just 19-of-77 (24.7 percent) shots overall and only eight of a school-record 38 three-point attempts. 

Freshman Keisy Villanueva impressed in her collegiate debut, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks. Fellow freshman Olivia Eller also reached double-figures with 10 before fouling out. 

After trailing 15-14 through one quarter, Tallahassee began to assert itself in the second. Eller scored eight points as the Eagles opened the quarter on a 14-6 run for a 28-21 lead, their largest of the game, at the 5:30 mark. 

Tallahassee led 33-29 at the break but watched Daytona State force three ties over the first 5:30 of the third quarter. Paris Williams' jumper, part of a 9-0 run, broke a 44-all tie at the 4:04 mark and gave the Falcons the lead for good. 

The Eagles will return to play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday when they host Palm Beach State College.