SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Tiffin women's basketball and the University of Illinois-Springfield battled back and forth throughout all of regulation and five extra minutes, but it was the Prairie Stars who came away with a 76-73 overtime victory to open the 2019-20 season.
Aarion Nichols forced the extra period with a triple to knot the game at 65 with just one second left in regulation, but UIS outlasted the Dragons in overtime with good defense and free-throw shooting down the stretch.
The game could not have been closer from start to finish, as there were 48 total lead changes with each team recording 24 apiece. UIS had a slight advantage shooting from the field at 43.1% to 42.2%, but the Dragons shot better from deep at 29.4% to 25.0%. Tiffin held the lead for 42% of the time compared to 34.6% for the Prairie Stars.
Tiffin shared the ball well, tallying 23 assists to 11 for UIS, while the two teams finished even with 14 steals apiece.
Jasmine Watts was a force down low all game, recording a career-high 22 points on 53.3% shooting, including going 6-8 from the free throw line. She was all over the court, also tallying six rebounds, three blocks, and five steals for the Dragons.
Nichols just missed a double-double with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Danelle Bradley added 10 points and six boards.
Tiffin got off to a good start, taking a 20-15 lead after one quarter with six points from Nichols.
UIS responded with 12 unanswered points to start the second quarter, however, taking a 27-20 lead with 7:08 remaining in the half. The Dragons clawed their way back almost immediately, taking the lead when a Nichols jumper made it 30-29 in favor of TU with 4:06 on the clock. The teams exchanged buckets and free throws until the halftime whistle, going into the break tied at 35.
The Prairie Stars led for much of the third quarter, until the Dragons roared back with six-straight points to take a 50-49 lead with 10 minutes remaining. Watts, Nichols, and Jensen Hiegel all scored during the run, with Hiegel's layup coming on the break with 12 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Neither team would lead by more than two in the fourth quarter until the very end, when UIS took a three-point lead, 65-62, with just 30 seconds to play. Tiffin missed a shot on the other end, but were given another opportunity when the Prairie Stars had a chance to put the game away but missed both free throws to give Tiffin the ball with five seconds left in regulation.
Needing a triple to tie, Nichols was able to get space and drain the buzzer-beater, sending the game to overtime.
The Dragons started overtime hot, scoring the first five points to go up 70-65, but UIS finished the game on an 11-3 run to earn the season-opening victory.
Tiffin will look to bounce back tomorrow on day two of the Prairie Stars Tip-Off Classic, taking on McKendree at 1:00 p.m. ET / 12:00 p.m. CT.