Trasi, Gayle power Northwest Florida past Panola, 70-57
By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – Awa Trasi poured in a game-high 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and No. 14 seed Northwest Florida State smothered No. 19 seed Panola College in the second half for a 70-57 victory in the opening round of the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Basketball Tournament on Tuesday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Georgia Gayle and Trinity Baptiste added 11 points each, with Gayle draining a trio of 3-pointers for the Raiders (23-6), who advance to face No. 3 seed and undefeated Moberly Area Community College in the second around at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
Northwest Florida held Panola (25-7) to just 5 of 23 shooting (21.7 percent) in the second half, turning a 33-25 advantage into an 11-point lead at 44-33 midway through the third quarter. The Raiders also forced 20 Panola turnovers.
“Our staple all year has been defense,” Northwest Florida head coach Bart Walker said. “We’re one of the best defensive teams in the country and we lay a lot on that. Today I thought we did a great job of contesting shots. We did have some breakdowns on the dribble drive where we gave them a lot of points at the free-throw line. But these ladies have bought into the defensive concept of trying to play good team defense and that has created a lot of success for us.”
Panola got to within seven late in the period, but Ann Jernigan hit a layup with 8.1 seconds to go in the period to put the Raiders back up by double digits, and the Fillies never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
Trasi keyed the Raiders inside domination, helping Northwest Florida outrebound Panola 34-28 and to a 38-12 edge on scoring in the paint.
“I thought Northwest Florida did a great job defensively,” Panola head coach Eddie Kite said. “We just made a lot of bad decisions in our offense, but that was their defense, making us do those things. We had a lot of empty possessions early in the game that dug a hole for us, and our turnovers just didn’t help us get out of that hole. We finally started scoring a little bit, but when you turn the ball over that kind of negates that.”
Maryia Adashchyk led Panola with 16 points while Patience Okpe added 10.
Both teams spent the first quarter trying to gauge what the other team was doing defensively, but it was Northwest Florida that found the early edge in the second quarter thanks to solid shooting and a couple of big 3-pointers.
Leading 18-15, Gayle hit the first of her two from beyond the arc to put the Raiders up six, and a layup by Leandra Echi a minute later made it a seven-point game at 23-16.
With just inside four minutes remaining, Gayle hit her second trey to kickstart an 8-3 run that gave Northwest Florida its largest lead of the day at 10 points, 31-21, with 1:25 left in the first half.
“For us, as a team, we like to go inside-out,” Gayle said. “We went with Awa inside and if she isn’t hitting then we like to come outside. It created momentum and then the lead started to grow from there.”
But Panola answered with consecutive buckets to pull to within six before Echi hit a layup at the buzzer to end the half with an eight-point Northwest Florida lead.
The Raiders shot the ball very well, using a 70-percent mark (7 of 10) to finish shooting 56 percent (14 of 25) for the first half while also outrebounding Panola 16-10. That led to a 10-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Trasi and Baptiste led Northwest Florida in the first half with seven points each while Daria Eremeeva paced Panola with nine points.