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Merchant Basket Lifts St. Mary’s Past Rolla

San Antonio–Juanita Merchant’s layup with 2.2 seconds left was the difference as St. Mary’s University rallied for a 57-56 win over the University of Missouri-Rolla in the final game of the Lady Rattler Christmas Classic women’s basketball tournament Thursday night at Bill Greehey Arena.

Merchant’s (Sr., Angleton) shot completed a comeback that saw the Rattlers trail by as much as seven points in the second half before rallying late. For the game the Rattlers shot just 33.3 percent (19-57) from the field and were outrebounded by Rolla, 43-32. However the Rattlers forced 23 Miner turnovers, while committing just 13, including just four in the second half.

With 3:38 left in the game the Rattlers trailed by six points on a layup by Katie Bunge. Rachel Jones (Jr., Little Rock, Ark.) responded with a three-point play to cut the deficit to just three points. Mallory Moeller (Fr., Seguin) followed a three-point play of her own to tie the score at 51-51 with 2:47 left.

After the teams traded possessions Bunge hit one-of-two free throws to give the Miners a one-point lead with 57 seconds left. The next possession Ashton Benford (Jr., Waxahachie) was fouled and hit both free throws to give the Rattlers the lead back with 36 seconds left. The Miners came back and took the lead on a driving layup with 23 seconds left. Natalie Gamez (Jr., San Antonio) responded with a short jumper with 15 seconds left to make the score 55-54 Rattlers. Bunge again responded by hitting another layup with nine seconds left to give Miners a 56-55 lead.

Jones immediately took the inbound and pushed the ball up the floor with time running out. She saw Merchant all alone under the basket and Merchant made the layup to give the Rattlers the lead for good. Jaime Forsberg’s desperation three-pointer as time ran out was no good, giving the Rattlers the win.

Jones led all scorers in the game with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. Merchant and Gamez were the only other Rattlers scoring in double figures with 11 points each. Tamara McCaskill had 11 points and Katie McElrath added 10 points for the Miners.

With the win the Rattlers have won six straight games and improved to 7-4 overall this season. Rolla fell to 5-2 this season. The Rattlers also went 2-0 in the Rattler Christmas Classic, taking the tournament title. Rolla and Hillsdale tied for second with 1-1 records, while Texas A&M-International University was 0-2. St. Mary’s will return to action on Sunday, December 30 in the first round of the St. Mary’s New Year’s Classic against Southeastern Oklahoma State University at 6 p.m.