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Mid-Major Bandwagon: Led by Davis-Stewart’s triple-double, Merrimack earns first Division I win

The opening week of NCAAW play featured several mid-major triumphs, including Missouri State’s and South Florida’s upsets of top-25 teams, but none meant more than Merrimack notching its first Division I victory.

Denia Davis-Stewart’s first career triple-double was the highlight of Merrimack’s first Division I victory on Tuesday.
Courtesy of Merrimack Athletics via Twitter

If playing your season opener on the road is hard, playing your first-ever Division I game on the road is probably even more difficult.

Not that the Northeast Conference-debutante Merrimack Warriors let that show, though, in their 79-64 season-opening win at UMass last Tuesday. Denia Davis-Stewart put the Warriors up 5-4 about two minutes into the game, and they led the rest of the way.

And Davis-Stewart’s game didn’t end there. Not only did she put up career-highs in points (31) and blocks (12), she also added 13 rebounds for her first career triple-double. Her outing was Merrimack’s first Division I triple-double, of course, but also its first overall since Tia Scott had two in one week in 2016.

Merrimack finished 14-of-27 from three, with six of those coming from Kate Mager en route to a career-high 22 points. Davis-Stewart had four 3-pointers of her own, while four other players — including each of the remaining starters — registered one apiece.

Accordingly, Davis-Stewart was named NEC Player of the Week on Monday.

Navigating the NEC is predicted to be a more difficult task for the Warriors, as they came in 11th of 11 teams in the conference’s preseason poll. Once again, Robert Morris and Saint Francis U (led by a new head coach) were picked to top the conference.

Before the entire athletic department made the leap to Division I this summer, Merrimack’s women’s and men’s hockey teams were the only programs competing at the NCAA’s highest level. As a member of the Northeast-10 conference, its women’s basketball team made three appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament, the most recent of which saw the team make the 2004 and 2005 Final Fours.

The Warriors didn’t make it out of this past weekend unblemished, falling to Lehigh — who was picked to win the Patriot League — 72-68 in overtime on Saturday. But their next test comes against Dartmouth, against whom they might have an easier time, as the Big Green were picked to finish near the bottom of the Ivy League.

Merrimack Warriors (1-1) vs. Dartmouth Big Green (1-0)

When: Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Leede Arena, Hanover, NH

How to watch: ESPN+

Missouri State, South Florida deliver ranked upsets

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 30 Div I Women’s Championship - Third Round - Missouri State v Stanford Cardinal
Brice Calip
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In a sure sign of confidence in their new coach, Missouri State visited then-No. 23 Minnesota on Tuesday and came out with a 77-69 win. Brice Calip’s career-high 21 points and five steals paced the Lady Bears. It was the team’s fifth straight game against a top-25 opponent dating back to last season’s Missouri Valley tournament and NCAA run, and their fourth win.

The Lady Bears’ schedule dialed down a bit — from ranked opponents, that is — with the start of the Preseason WNIT. They beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at home on Friday, then traveled to face the always-tough Boise State, who they also defeated. Next up, they’ll face Oklahoma in the semifinals.

Head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton became the first Lady Bears coach to start her career 3-0, and the team is off to its best start in 22 years. The win over Boise State also marked Missouri State’s 12th straight road win, extending a school record.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 13 Women’s USF at UConn
Enna Pehadzic
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

South Florida, meanwhile, defeated Big 12 powerhouse then-No. 15 Texas 64-57 for its second win of the season. The Bulls were led by Enna Pehadzic’s 16 points and two steals; Pehadzic also led the team with 20 points in Tuesday’s season-opening win against Jacksonville. Bethy Mununga also had a second straight double-digit scoring effort with 12 points against Jacksonville and 10 against Texas.

For her efforts, Pehadzic was named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week.

After their successes this weekend, South Florida entered this week’s AP Poll at No. 25, while Minnesota dropped out. Thanks to their defeat of the Golden Gophers, Missouri State received AP Poll votes for the first time this season.

(RV) Missouri State Lady Bears (3-0) vs. Oklahoma Sooners (2-0)

When: Thursday, Nov. 14, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Lloyd Noble Center, Norman, OK

How to watch: FOX Sports Oklahoma

No. 25 South Florida Bulls (2-0) vs. Howard Bison (1-1)

When: Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Yuengling Center, Tampa, FL

How to watch: Bullsvision

Drake opens season by beating South Dakota State, Iowa State

Sara Rhine
Courtesy of MVC Basketball via Twitter

A pair of home contests against two of the best teams they’ll face all season? No problem for the defending Missouri Valley regular-season champions. The Bulldogs first defeated South Dakota State 74-67 on Friday, denying the 2019 Sweet Sixteen participants a late-game comeback bid. Sara Rhine — who was named MVC Player of the Week — had a game-high 25 points, while Brenni Rose dished a career-high nine assists.

Sunday, Drake handed Iowa State its first loss of the season in an 86-81 slugfest. Down after the first quarter, the Bulldogs delivered a 20-11 second quarter and a winning margin they ended the contest with, as the teams tied in the second half. Once again, Rhine led all scorers with 23 points, including tying her career-high of three made 3-pointers, and added a game-high nine rebounds.

Drake opened its season receiving votes in both the AP and USA TODAY polls, and after this weekend, finished two spots out of the most recent AP Poll.

The Bulldogs aren’t slowing down, next traveling to face South Dakota (also 2-0), who is tabbed to finish first in the Summit League over South Dakota State. Last season, the Bulldogs hosted the Coyotes and won.

(RV) Drake Bulldogs (2-0) vs. (RV) South Dakota Coyotes (2-0)

When: Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Coyote Sports Center, Vermillion, SD

How to watch: ESPN+

Fordham gives Notre Dame all it can handle in 60-55 loss

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 23 Div I Women’s Championship - First Round - Fordham v Syracuse
Kendell Heremaia
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After losing all five 2018-19 starters to the WNBA this offseason, the pressure was on then-No. 16 Notre Dame (this week, No. 15) to deliver an opening win — and Fordham provided that pressure, almost to an upset. The defending Atlantic 10 tournament champions were down by just two points with 11 seconds to go before the Fighting Irish extended their lead at the line. Bre Cavanaugh and Kendell Heremaia scored 14 points apiece to lead the Rams, while Kaitlyn Downey pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.

The Rams couldn’t keep up the intensity in their Sunday game at Columbia, falling 70-51. Downey and Heremaia led the team in scoring with 19 and 13 points, respectively, while Cavanaugh was the team’s leading rebounder with seven.

Next up, Fordham travels outside New York for the first time this season as it meets Penn State on Wednesday evening.

Fordham Rams (0-2) vs. Penn State Lady Lions (1-1)

When: Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Bryce Jordan Center, University Park, PA

How to watch: BTN+

(RV) indicates that the team received votes in the latest AP Poll.