But then it was the Pirates who flexed their futility, going the next nine-plus minutes without a point and missing their first 11 second-half field-goal attempts. The Blue Devils cashed in to post a 19-0 run that gave them a 35-28 advantage.
"Generally, I consider the first five to seven minutes of the second half to be the most crucial time in a basketball game," Orange Coast Coach Mike Thornton said. "And we were really horrid for the first part of the second half. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong.
"If we would have come out and jumped on them again, I don't think they would have responded. But that's the difference between us and them. We responded really well after things went so badly for us. We called a timeout and [the OCC players] responded."
That response included a 22-7 run in which five Pirates scored. When sophomore Amanda Deal drained her second three-pointer of the blitz with 5:29 left, OCC had secured a 50-42 edge.
Merced, however, was not without one last response of its own as a three-pointer by Kenyatta Harper with 1:26 left pulled the Blue Devils within 51-48.
But Deal netted a three-pointer with 1:13 left and OCC held on to earn its third straight win.
"One of my assistants [Steve Popovich] said afterward that he didn't know what caused us to get through that [early second-half] stretch in which nothing went right," Thornton said. "But we did get through it. I think pretty much everybody on the roster helped pull us through. We have a really together team."
A zone defense helped OCC put together a dominant stretch at the outset, as Merced was, at varying points, two for 22 and five for 36 from the field. The Blue Devils finished seven for 38 in the first half (18.4%).