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The Lakeland College women's basketball team fought back from a late 18-point deficit, outscoring Carroll, 31-9, in the final nine minutes of the second half to down the Pioneers, 79-75, Monday night in the season opener for both teams at the Moose & Dona Woltzen Gymnasium.
The Muskies trailed Carroll by 13 at halftime and struggled to close the margin. Trailing by 18 with 9:40 remaining, Autumn Gaylor (Ingleside, Ill.) connected on a layup and free throw as Lakeland started chipping away at the Carroll lead. A pair of free throws by junior KC Blahnik (Gladstone, Mich.) and a jumper by senior Kasey Gussert (Kingsford, Mich.) cut the Carroll lead to 11 with less than eight minutes remaining.
After trading 3-point plays on the next few possessions, Blahnik and Gussert combined to score Lakeland's next 12 points to cut the margin down to two with three minutes remaining. Trailing by four after a pair of Carroll free throws, Lakeland rattled off the last nine points of the game, taking its first lead of the night on a Blahnik layup with 51 seconds remaining.
"It was a rough start for us," Lakeland head coach Teri Johnson said. "We had a lot of freshmen playing and sometimes it showed. Our lack of experience out there in taking care of the ball really hurt us, but we played excited, even in the first half."
Lakeland got into foul trouble early in the first half, putting Carroll in the bonus at the 11:30 mark. Carroll hit 13-of-14 shots from the line while only shooting 35.9 percent from the field as they took a 42-39 halftime lead.
"We were making dumb mistakes, putting them at the line too many times, and beating ourselves," said Johnson. "We kept on fighting and were eventually in the game. We still had turnovers in the second half, but we tightened up our press and I think we started to wear them down. I feel we have a deep bench, and we used that to our advantage."
Blahnik scored 21 of her game-high 29 points in the second half, shooting 12-of-15 from the field and contributing nine rebounds. Gussert added 15 on 5-of-10 shooting and freshman Becca Paulson (Clayton) scored 10 points in her college debut.
Lyndsey Seewald led Carroll with 19 points as the Muskies held them to just 35.7 percent from the floor, including 18.8 percent from the 3-point line, while shooting 57.1 percent from the field themselves.
"Nobody wants to start their season 0-1," said Johnson. "We have our tournament at home coming up this weekend,and we're not used to preparing this early and having a game under our belts going into the tournament. I have to say hats off to our team for not giving up, and it's comforting knowing that we can go into the first round of the tourney with a win."
Lakeland returns to action Friday evening as they face Lawrence in the first round of the Lakeland Tip-Off Tournament at 6 p.m.