The Central Connecticut women's basketball team earned a 76-71 victory over Saint Francis U behind 29 points from senior Jaclyn Babe and 21 from sophomore Kaley Watras. The victory gives the Blue Devils (16-13, 10-8 NEC) the #5 seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament and sets up a first round rematch with the Red Flash (15-14, 10-8 NEC) who clinched the #4 seed by virtue of a Monmouth victory over Mount St. Mary's.
The Red Flash battled back into the game after trailing the Blue Devils by 11 points with 7:04 left in the game. Alexa Heyward banked in a long three pointer with four seconds left to play to cut CCSU's lead to 73-71. Saint Francis fouled Jaclyn Babe on the inbound pass and Babe stepped to the line and hit her first free throw to give CCSU a three-point lead with three seconds remaining. Another made free throw would give the Blue Devils a four point lead and the victory. Babe's free throw missed, but junior Lauren Arbogast grabbed the rebound and put in a layup to secure a 76-71 victory for CCSU.
The Red Flash opened the second half with a 7-0 run to take a 35-34 lead with 17:59 left in the game, but again the Blue Devils answered this time with a 9-0 stretch to take a 43-37. CCSU expanded its lead to 49-39 and then 59-48 with 7:04 left to play.
Saint Francis cut the CCSU lead to three points four times over the final seven minutes, but the Blue Devils were up to the challenge and never allowed the Red Flash to tie the score or take the lead.
Watras led the Blue Devils with six points, including four-for-four at the free throw line, over the final 78 seconds of play.
The rebound by Arbogast was just her second of the game, but it came at a crucial moment in the game and secured the victory.
CCSU relied heavily on the scoring of Jaclyn Babe and Watras. The duo combined for 50 points and are the first CCSU teammates to score 20-plus in the same game since Justina Udenze and Leanne Crocket both scored more than 20 against St. Francis on Feb. 28, 2011.
The Blue Devils built a 34-28 halftime lead behind 20 points from Jaclyn Babe. Babe was 6-of-9 from the field and connected on 7-of-8 free throw attempts.
CCSU opened the game with a 13-6 run over the first five and a half minutes of play. Jaclyn Babe led the Blue Devils with five points during the run and junior Lauren Arbogast was right behind her with four points.
Saint Francis made a run and tied the game at 23-23 with 3:54 to play, but the Blue Devils answered the Red Flash's 11-2 run with an 11-5 stretch to close out the period.
The Blue Devils were able to boost their first half offense with 11 made free throws. CCSU went to the line 13 times in the period and shot 84% from the stripe.
CCSU finished 31-of-36 (86.1%) from the free throw line. The 31 free throws made are just one off the program's single-game record of 32.
Jaclyn Babe was 8-of-11 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free throw line. Watras was 5-of-9 from the field and 10-of-12 from the line.
With 21 points, Watras extends her streak of double-digit scoring games to a career-high six.
CCSU outscored Saint Francis 21-16 off the bench, Watras had all 21 bench points for Central.
The Blue Devils out rebounded the Red Flash 38-31 with both teams grabbing 11 offensive rebounds.
The Blue Devils will travel to Saint Francis U on Sunday for the opening round of the NEC Tournament.