Published December 11. 2013 4:00AM
New London - It was after Alexi Howland came up with her own rebound off a missed free throw with 8.9 seconds remaining, after the Coast Guard Academy women's basketball team stretched its season-opening record to 7-0 for the first time in program history, that athletic director Tim Fitzpatrick headed to the locker room to address the players.
"He told them how proud he is of the team, that they won tonight when it came down to defense and rebounding," Coast Guard coach Alex Ivansheck said.
"He told them it's not over. Continue to get shots up every day over the next month. ... It was great timing by him. It's nice to hear it from someone else."
Torie Sutherland finished with 16 points, including three 3-point field goals Tuesday night, as Coast Guard topped Connecticut College 39-35 at Luce Field House, adding to its win total despite shooting 22 percent against the Camels.
Coast Guard, in its second season under Ivansheck, is off now until a Jan. 2 game at home against Curry and will resume its New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference schedule on Jan. 4 against Wheaton. Wheaton (5-0) and Coast Guard (4-0) are the two unbeaten teams in the league.
That's what Ivansheck, although she said the break comes at a good time to heal a few nagging injuries, is looking forward to.
"If we even have one day off and the next day we practice, I miss them," said Ivansheck, a 2000 graduate of Norwich Free Academy who won a pair of state championships as a member of the Wildcats. "I'm sure we'll be texting and calling. But I'm definitely excited to get them back and for the next 18 regular-season games. It's one of the best groups I've had."
Conn (4-5) had a height advantage over the Bears, starting three players over 5-foot-10.
Coast Guard, however, planned its defense to stop the Camels from the inside out, Ivansheck said, and the Bears held Conn leading scorer Tara Gabelman to two points with two fouls in the first half. Coast Guard led 22-15 at halftime.
In the second half, Conn made just one of its first seven shots to start, as Coast Guard took a 29-20 lead with 15 minutes, 12 seconds to play following baskets by Meghan Fornaro and Kaitlin Ward.
Conn got back-to-back shots inside by 6-foot Jenna Lovett, however, that pulled the score to 29-24, beginning an 8-1 run that shrunk Coast Guard's lead to 30-28.
The Bears led 34-32 when both teams went without a field goal for a 5-minute span. The next player to hit a basket was Coast Guard's Fornaro and she made it count, hitting a 3-pointer. Gabelman hit a free throw with 14.2 seconds left to pull the Camels within 37-35 and she missed the second, rebounded by Coast Guard. Howland went to the free throw line with 9.9 seconds left and made the first, but missed the second, meaning Conn was still within one possession.
That's when Howland got her own rebound and hit another foul shot for the final margin.
"Conn's definitely a great team," said Sutherland, a 5-9 guard from Houston who can play inside (she was a forward in high school) and outside comfortably. "I thought we held ourselves together.
"... It's a great feeling. It makes the school year so smooth knowing we're the first team to accomplish (going 7-0). It's just our hard work in practice; we're motivated. And that's how we play."
Coast Guard was 10-15 last season, the most wins for the program since 2007-08, and reached the NEWMAC tournament for the first time since 2009-10.
Ivansheck commends her team's work ethic for its current winning streak.
"We've played teams that are bigger than us. We've played teams that are more talented than us. But as of now, we haven't been outworked," she said. "We've outworked some better teams."
Fornaro had seven points and seven rebounds for Coast Guard, while Ward and Brittney Zimmerman each had eight rebounds. Lovett finished with 10 points and Gabelman 11 rebounds for Conn.
"Coast Guard was physical, they have tough kids, they're well-coached," Conn coach Brian Wilson said. "They played very confident basketball tonight. ... We both missed a lot of shots. We probably set basketball back a little bit tonight."