Johnson sets two new tournament records as Shelton State tops Gulf Coast in third-place game.
By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – No. 1 vs. No. 2 was the matchup everyone anticipated coming into the 2018 NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament, just not when it happened.
After both No. 1 Shelton State and No. 2 Gulf Coast State were upset in the semifinals, the teams also ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NJCAA polls clashed in the third-place game of the tournament Saturday at the Rip Griffin Center. It would have been understandable if a lack of motivation was a factor for both teams.
But they sure didn’t play like it.
Alabama signee Cierra Johnson set new NJCAA tournament single-game and cumulative scoring records, and a day after losing their first game of the season, the Lady Bucs ran away from a depleted Gulf Coast State team to claim their second straight third-place finish with a 98-64 victory.
Johnson scored 47 points on Saturday, eclipsing the 46-point mark set by Natashia Morehead of Gulf Coast in 2003, and her 124 points in the tournament bettered by six the previous mark of 118 points scored by Kim Wingard of Holmes (Miss.) Community College in 1992.
“I’m honestly lost for words right now,” said Johnson, who hit the marks despite spraining her ankle and missing most of the third quarter while being attended to. “My motivation for this game was because we weren’t in the championship game. Like coach said, we wanted the highest award we could get, and a sprained ankle … wasn’t going to stop me from getting what we all wanted.”
Johnson scored 31 of her 47 points in the first half as the Lady Bucs (36-1) used a 27-4 run over the final six-plus minutes of the second half to forge a 54-36 lead, and Gulf Coast never got closer than 20 points the rest of the way.
Margaret Robinson added 18 points for the Lady Bucs, who shot 52.9 percent (36 of 68) from the field for the game while also getting 27 points off 16 Gulf Coast turnovers. The victory also gave the outgoing sophomores at Shelton State their 70th career victory.
“Obviously we wanted to be in the championship game and we weren’t, but we did finish with a great game. It was a great performance,” Shelton State head coach Madonna Thompson said. “We unloaded the bench, and everyone got to play. I thought we looked good and beat one of the top programs, if not the top program in the nation.
“Someone was going to win and ward today, whether it was third or fourth, so if you’re a competitor you want to get the highest you can get, and today it was third. Whether we’re playing horse or gotcha, we’re coming out to win no matter what. I thought they came out and played well and they wanted it. We did as much as we could do positive in a game we didn’t want to play in.”
Without it stop two scorers due to injury – guard Shayla Bennett did not play after suffering a concussion early in the Lady Commodores’ semifinal loss to Tallahassee Community College on Friday night – Gulf Coast just did not have enough offense to keep up with Shelton State.
Dominque Banks led the Lady Commodores off the bench with 14 points and Diene Diane added 11.
Both teams came on their horse in the first half with a frantic pace established from the start. Neither team led by more than six in the first 12 minutes, with Shelton State holding a 23-20 advantage at the end of the opening period.
Gulf Coast used a 9-2 run to start the second quarter to gain a 29-25 advantage, and Nakia Kincey’s second 3-pointer of the half put the Lady Commodores up 32-27 with 6:11 to play in the first half.
From there, however, it was all Shelton State, which not only finished the game with a flurry offensively but tightened up its defense, allowing just two buckets over the final six minutes of the half while also forcing 11 turnovers and outrebounding the Lady Commodores 22-17.
Johnson started the surge when she converted a three-point play then added a 3-pointer as part of a 10-0 run to put the Lady Bucs up 37-32. A jumper by Alexus Dye for Gulf Coast only delayed the Lady Bucs’ progression as Johnson again finished a three-point play on a layup, then ended the half with a 10-footer with 46 seconds left to finish the 27-4 run and put the Lady Bucs up 54-36 at the intermission.
Without Bennett, the Lady Commodores just didn’t have enough offense to keep up.
“I think we just, maybe, were a little more mentally prepared for battle, and physically prepared,” Thompson said. “We just kind of outbattled them, but Gulf Coast, let’s face it, they lost two of their top players. When we played them back earlier in the year they were both there, and those are two tough ballplayers and would have made a difference in this game. So, I think we just pressured them a bit more and tried not to let their guards take control of the game.”