By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – Alyssa Nieves scored a team-high 21 points off the bench and Ce’Deja James added five of her 12 points in overtime, including her first 3-pointer of the season, as No. 23 South Georgia Tech College outscored No. 10 Casper College 17-5 in overtime for a 77-65 victory in the opening round of the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Basketball Tournament on Monday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Esther Adenike added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Lady Jets (29-5), who rallied from as much as 13 points down in the second half to tie the game at 60 and send it into overtime. South Georgia Tech even had a chance to win the game in regulation, getting a defensive stop with 8.5 seconds left but missing two attempts from under the basket as time expired.
But that did not faze the Lady Jets, who got the James trey and two free throws from Nieves to open overtime then closed out the game with six straight free throws.
“Extremely proud of our effort in the second half,” South Georgia Tech head coach James Frey said. “I thought we were really flat in the first half, and one of our premier players picked up two fouls in the first three minutes. But we kind of hung in there for awhile, they opened it up to 10 and at halftime we challenge them and asked them, “Are you done?’” They weren’t ready to be done.”
Lucie Hoskova led all scorers with 22 points for the Lady Thunderbirds, who used a 12-0 run over the final 4:40 of the first half to turn a 24-22 deficit into a 34-24 lead at halftime.
But the run only hid what really befell Casper – its shooting from beyond the arc. Normally a solid shooting team, the Lady Thunderbirds show just 25 percent (3 of 12) from 3-point range in the first half, and didn’t get much better from there, hitting only 6 of 30 (20 percent) for the game.
“This was, by far, one of our poorest shooting outings of the season,” Casper head coach Dwight Gunnare said. “This is a good shooting team and I’m just a little disappointed. If we play our normal game and shoot it well I think we have a chance to advance. That’s taking zero away from South Georgia Tech. We had a couple of turnovers down the stretch … it was just one of those games where the ball didn’t bounce our direction.”
Paula Sanchez chipped in 10 points in the loss for Casper.
Neither team came out of the gates blazing and both shot under 40 percent for the first half. The difference was what Casper did late in the second quarter and from the free-throw line.
Trailing 24-22 with 5 minutes to go in the first half, the Thunderbirds erupted for 12 straight points for a double-digit lead at the intermission. A big chunk of that was from the free-throw line, where Casper hit 6 of 7 from the charity stripe in the final 4:40 of the half and 11 of 15 for the half, compared to just 1 of 3 for the Lady Jets.
Hoskova, who came into the game averaging 12.2 points per game, dominated the first half with 14 points and six rebounds as Casper outrebounded South Georgia Tech 22-16.
Casper kept the pressure up early in the third quarter with five straight points to take a 39-26 lead, but South Georgia Tech began its comeback from there as Adenike scored eight points in a 16-3 run, which allowed the Lady Jets to trail by just one at the end of the third quarter.
A 7-0 spurt by Casper put the Lady Thunderbirds back on to 54-50 with 6:24 to play in regulation, but South Georgia hung around long enough and Houfat Mahouchiza tied the game with 12.9 seconds left when she got a steal and drove the length of the court for the bucket and foul, converting the game-tying free throw to send the game to overtime.
From there, it was all Lady Jets, who also got 11 points from Bigue Sarr as part of 46 points off the bench.