Shelton State shoots its way into semifinals, rallying past New Mexico JC, 91-79
By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – Dana Echols drained three of her four 3-pointers during a game-clinching stretch of the fourth quarter, and No. 1 seed Shelton State College survived an inspired effort from No. 8 seed New Mexico Junior College to advance to the semifinals of the NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament with a 91-79 victory Thursday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Cierra Johnson led the Lady Bucs (35-0) with 29 points and Savannah Reier chipped in 21 points, each also adding four 3-pointers, as Shelton State remained perfect and advanced to the semifinals on Friday to face either Trinity Valley Community College or Walters State College.
Tied at 68, Echols hit a trey from the right corner that started a string of six straight made 3-pointers for Shelton State. Echols drained back-to-back 3-pointers with four minutes to play that put the Lady Bucs up 80-72, and Shelton State never led by fewer than six the rest of the way.
“Dana can hit shots. Dana is a flat-out shooter,” Shelton State head coach Madonna Thompson said. “I think they kind of forgot about here and were focused more on Cierra and Savannah. Just kind of naturally went to Dana and she can flat-out shoot the basketball and she knocked down some huge shots.”
The fourth-quarter surge came after the Lady Bucs spent the entire first half and first half of the third quarter chasing the Lady Thunderbirds (31-4), who used a size advantage inside and transition offense from Shelton State misses to befuddle Shelton.
Forward Alexes Bryant score 22 of her game-high 32 points in the first half, scoring seemingly at will in the paint. That trend continued in the third quarter as NMJC built a 58-48 lead with 6:13 to play.
But a switch to zone defense ignited the Lady Bucs, who outscored NMJC 42-21 the rest of the game. Johnson started a 10-0 run with free throws after the Lady Bucs grabbed three offensive rebounds, and the run ended with back-to-back 3-pointers by Reier and Tiyah Johnson to tie the game at 58.
“Switching to zone, I’d say zone is one of our best defenses,” Johnson said. “We play zone better than we play man. We just packed it in on (Bryant) and it was a game-changer.”
Bryant had just two points over the final eight minutes of the game, and the Lady Thunderbirds struggled against the Shelton State zone in the fourth quarter, hitting just 4 of 13 from the field.
“We’ve got to play four quarters like we did the first two,” New Mexico JC head coach Drew Sanders said. “We lost a little of our defensive discipline in the second half and they got some open looks and got hot and gained their confidence. They had to go zone because they couldn’t stop Alexis. We needed to be a little more patience with the zone.”
Margaret Robinson added 19 points for the Lady Bucs while Danielle Craft chipped in 14 points for NMJC and Tatiana Wright added 13.
Led by Bryant, the Lady Thunderbirds came out of the gates on fire from the field, hitting seven of their first night shots. Using her size advantage, Bryant scored 14 of her 22 first-half points I the first quarter and hit 10 of 12 from the field in the first half. That included a stretch where she scored all nine points in a 9-0 run that turned a 15-13 lead into a 24-13 advantage with 3:08 to play in the first quarter.
From there, the Lady Bucs played catch-up the rest of the half – which they did.
Trailing 33-23 with 6:36 left in the first half after a putback by Keonna Watson for NMJC, Shelton State finally found some offensive rhythm. A free throw by Reier and two jumpers by Robinson, who tried to singlehandedly keep the Lady Bucs in the game with 15 first-half points, sparked a 13-2 run that tied the game at 35 with 3:15 to play in the first half.
Shortly thereafter, Jordan LeNoir drained a 3-pointer from the corner to give Shelton State its first lead since three minutes into the game at 38-37. But NMJC tightened up defensively and got its transition game in gear again, scoring the next 13 points of the game before Johnson drained a trey from the top of the key just before the buzzer, sending the Lady Thunderbirds into the halftime lockerroom up 49-41.
NMJC finished the first half shooting 54.3 percent (19 of 35) while dominating the Lady Bucs on scoring in the paint, 32-12. Shelton State struggled from the outside, hitting on just 5 of 19 (26.3 percent) of shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Tatiana Wright added 10 first-half points for NMJC while Johnson finished the first half with 13 points, 11 of which came in the second period.