Strong fourth quarter helps Gulf Coast hold off San Jacinto-North, 54-45
LUBBOCK, Texas – Shayla Bennett scored a game-high 17 points, and two-time defending champion and No. 2 seed Gulf Coast State pulled away from No. 15 seed San Jacinto-North College in the fourth quarter for a 54-45 victory in the opening round of the NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament Tuesday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Jhileiha Dunlap added 10 points and 15 rebounds for the Lady Commodores (27-2), who trailed 40-39 15 seconds into the fourth quarter but subsequently went on a game-clinching 15-1 run to take a 54-41 lead with 2:09 to play.
It was a stark contrast from the first three periods, where San Jacinto seemed to hit a key shot whenever it was called for and put the defensive clamps on Gulf Coast, which shot just 35.6 percent (16 for 45) through three quarters.
“That first one is so hard, and boy, everything they shot in the first quarter and half went in and made some good shots,” Gulf Coast head coach Ronnie Scovell said. “We didn’t play very good defense, and we played like we were scared and probably were. We have a lot of new players, only have two returning players who played significant minutes here last year. We’re advancing and not going to look back, going to watch (the next game) and hopefully play a little bit better Gulf Coast basketball on Thursday.”
But during a span of eight minutes of the fourth quarter, from 9:45 to 1:46, San Jacinto (25-11) failed to hit a bucket and managed just one point on an Alexis Bryant free throw. The Lady Gators shot just 17.6 percent (3 for 17) in the period, wilting under the defensive pressure from Gulf Coast.
Bennett started the run with a layup, and Dunlap capped it with a jumper with just over two minutes to play to put the game out of reach.
Eryka Sidney led the Lady Gators with 17 points while Princess Clemons added 11 points and six rebounds.
“The girls played amazing,” San Jac head coach Kayla Weaver said. “We had a game plan to try to keep it close to the end and they did a great job of that. Gulf Coast is a good team and they score a lot of points, and the girls defended really well for four quarters. The offense, we just came up short and that could be fatigue, things were coming up short. But at the end of the day they didn’t fall our way. That was the difference in the game the last couple of minutes was not being able to finish some shots.”
The first half was a back-and-forth battle between the teams, with neither the Lady Commodores or the Lady Gators able to sustain any offensive momentum. The largest lead of the half by either team was three by San Jacinto, and that came just over four minutes into the game and early in the second quarter.
The only distinct advantage for either team was the 20-14 rebounding edge held by Gulf Coast, including an 8-2 edge on the offensive boards. But it translated into just four second-chance points as the Lady Commodores hit 10 of 29 from the field in the first two quarters.
San Jacinto shot 44 percent (11 of 25) in the first half but was just 2 of 12 from 3-point range.
Eryka Sidney and Maddison Glass led the Lady Gators with eight points each while Shayla Bennett’s nine points led the Lady Commodores.
Gulf Coast scored the first four points of the second half, but San Jac answered with an 11-2 run to go up 37-33 with 4:13 left in the third quarter, just on the brink of taking over the game. But Gulf Coast ended the period with six straight points, setting up to pull away in the fourth quarter.