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Cardiac Flyers women show heart in NCAA tourney win

It’s probably not what the doctor ordered, but it was pretty good medicine after all.

The Dayton Flyers had just beaten St. John’s 96-90 in an exhausting, gut-wrenching, bloody double overtime game on the Red Storm’s home court Sunday — the first two-overtime game in the NCAA women’s tournament in 13 years — and afterward, in private, UD coach Jim Jabir admitted something.

He has had some serious heart problems in the past. So you wondered what a thrilling, toe-to-toe brawl like this one had been does to his ticker — especially considering he can get pretty excitable on the sideline.

“The irony is I left my heart medicine at home,” he said with shrug and a bit of a smile. “I haven’t taken it since Saturday night. “

So instead of taking pills, he handed out some pats on the back for his 28-2 team that had won just the second NCAA Tournament game in the program’s history.

“I’m just really proud of the kids, Holy smoke,” he said. “We were more physical, more aggressive than we’ve been in a long, long time …That’s one of the most complete games I’ve ever been a part of. Every kid contributed in some way. Everybody was a part of this.”

And that includes his 78-year-old mother, Rose, who had made the short trip over from Brooklyn — Jim’s home — to Queens and was in the Carnesecca Arena stands nervously praying the rosary.

She worked those beads pretty hard and the Flyers played heavenly when odds were against them.

Although their No. 7 seed was better than the Red Storm at 10, they had to play on the St. John’s campus in front of partisan crowd. The last time they were in a tournament game on someone else’s home court — Saint Joseph’s in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals — they had played tentatively.

“We got back to what we do, running and pushing the basketball, and when we do that good things happen,” said Flyers sophomore guard Andrea Hoover.

They did instantly and a big reason was Hoover — who lived up to her all-conference first team honors and finished with a game-high 24 points, 16 in the first half.

But St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said the UD player who made the difference in game was senior forward Olivia Applewhite, who came off the bench for a double double, pulling down 16 rebounds and scoring 13 points.

Jabir agreed: “Olivia — with those 16 boards — she was an animal. A real animal. I’m just so proud of her.”

Applewhite explained her game: “I’m as senior and the bottom line is I didn’t want to go home today. I figured our shots weren’t really falling, so I could crash the boards.”

Another Flyer star was freshman backup guard Kelley Austria, who left the game late in the first overtime with a bloody nose thanks to a Red Storm elbow. The blood finally stopped, but she did not. She scored seven points in the second overtime and finished with 21 points

Fellow freshman Amber Deane — who started but spent much of crunch time on the sideline — was called off the bench in the final seconds of the first overtime and hit a baseline jumper with 15.1 seconds to tie the game 84-84 and send it to the second extra stanza.

The unsung star for the Flyers was senior point guard Sam MacKay, who settled the team down after it blew a 13-point lead with five minutes left in regulation. The Flyers had led for nearly 39 minutes of the contest, but the momentum shifted when St. John’s threw on the press and a couple of Flyers got skittish.

MacKay took control, handled the pressure, helped the team get back into its offensive sets and managed to score 14 points herself and hand out six assists.

Throughout the two overtimes, most of the crowd of 2,717 — which filled half of Carnesecca Arena and included a substantial Flyers’ presence — was on its feet and roaring.

“It was very stressful at the end,” Applewhite admitted afterward. “I’m still kind of overwhelmed.”

Hoover said the whole team felt like that, but rose above it: “It took a lot of heart for us to pull out that game.”

The Flyers have the sixth youngest Division I team in the nation, but they showed some maturity Sunday, Jabir said: “This whole season has been what I call improbable. We had a bunch of freshmen running around out there on St. John’s home court against a great team, a Big East team, and we did what we’ve been doing all year.

“We told them to make it a business trip and they embraced that. You’d expect them to be running around giddy — saying , ‘Hey, we’re in the NCAA tournament’ — but they’re not like that.”

So now the Flyers face 28-5 Kentucky, the No. 2 seed and a team that has former Chaminade Julienne standout — and UConn transfer — Samarie Walker as one its stars. Walker scored 14 points Sunday as the Wildcats dumped Navy, 61-41, in the first game here.

Tuesday’s game at 7 p.m. game is being televised by ESPN2.

“I’m going to savor this win a long time, even when I’m in my room watching Kentucky (film) tonight,” Jabir said. “I want our kids to savor it to. Tomorrow, we get back to business. We didn’t come here for one game, we came for two. So we’ve a lot to do tomorrow.”

For Jabir that to do list will include a quick trip to the drugstore, as well.

A guy can only take so much of that gut-wrenching good medicine he got in Sunday’s game.

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