No. 11 seed Tallahassee CC finally figures out conference foe Gulf Coast, reached first title game in school history with 78-68 victory.
By George Watson
LUBBOCK, Texas – There will be a new champion.
After coming up short three times in FSCAA Panhandle Conference play against the two-time defending national champions, No. 11 seed Tallahassee Community College finally got over the hump it couldn’t during the regular season, ousting conference foe and No. 2 seed Gulf Coast State from the NJCAA Division I Women’s National Basketball Tournament.
Japonica James scored a team-high 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and the Lady Eagles closed the game with a 12-0 run and outscored Gulf Coast 23-8 over the final 7:47 to claim a 78-68 victory, earning a berth in the title game for the first time in school history.
“It’s one of the toughest things to do is beat a team several times, and we’ve had to do that two nights in a row,” Tallahassee head coach Franqua “Q” Bedell said. “They’re the blueprint of what JUCO basketball is and what you aspire to be as a program. Tonight, to beat them, it’s a little luck, a little misfortune with one of their best players going out. But also, it’s a little bit of a sign of what we’ve been made of all year and what I’ve believed in this team, and they’ve finally taken it on for themselves.
“It was a complete team effort all the way around. It’s kind of a surreal feeling right now.”
Gulf Coast (28-3) got 38 points in an inspired effort by Janesha Green, who had just 13 points total in the three previous games against Tallahassee. But the Lady Commodores spent almost the entire game without leading scorer Shayla Bennett.
Bennett, who came into the game averaging 21 points per game, took a blow to the head four minutes into the game and had to be helped off the floor, never to return. Her status for the third-place game on Saturday is questionable.
Even without Bennett and the 19 points per game from injured guard Kionna Jeter, the Lady Commodores put forth what head coach Ronnie Scovel called the best effort of the season. But the 19 turnovers and 26 points scored by Tallahassee off those turnovers killed whatever offensive momentum the Lady Commodores were able to build.
“It thought that our young ladies played as hard as they could play with limited players, limited power,” Scovel said. “When you take away 20 points in the regular season and another 20-something points in the tournament, and you’re down 48 points, you’re going to have a hard time competing, and I thought we competed great.
“(Losing Bennett) killed us in handling the ball, that’s the bottom line. We still scored, but we missed some things we don’t normally miss in the post.”
Even with the absence of almost 50 points per game, the Lady Commodores were in position to win the game. The two teams traded the lead back and forth for three quarters, neither team leading by more than five points at any point in the contest.
But Green dominated the second half for the Lady Commodores, scoring 27 of her points after halftime. She also scored all eight points in an 8-0 run that put Gulf Coast up 63-55 with 7:47 to play.
After a timeout, however, the Lady Eagles finished with a flurry. James scored nine of her points down the stretch, staring a 11-0 run that gave Tallahassee a 66-63 lead the adding five points in a 12-0 run over the final 3:05 while holding Gulf Coast scoreless over the final 3:45 of the game.
“I felt like the team had a chip on its shoulder for the fourth game and we knew we could beat them,” James said. “, Gulf Coast never beat us, we beat ourselves, and we had to realize that we can do it, and all come together. It’s not one person that was going to do it, we had to come together as a whole, and it took the whole team.”
That team effort gave James a lot of support. In addition to the double-double from James, Jamyra McChristine added 11 points and 11 rebounds, while Mari Hill and Nakiah Black both came off the bench to chip in 14 points apiece.
Tallahassee also outscored Gulf Coast 54-26 in the paint and outrebounded the Lady Commodores 45-38, getting 23 second-chance points off 21 offensive boards.
Jhileiha Dunlap was the only other player in double figures for Gulf Coast with 10 points.
“We want to force people into turnovers, which is why our system is called ‘Chaos,’” Bedell said. “We want to create a type of chaos that is organized for us but chaotic for other people, throwing bodies at people left and right. If felt like we forced them to play a little bit faster than they wanted to play.”