Johnson’s hot tournament play helps Shelton State upset Odessa College, 81-66
LUBBOCK, Texas – It’s just three games, but Cierra Johnson is making a strong case as for Most Valuable Player of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.
A day after dropping 24 on No. 7-seed Tallahassee, the freshman from Mobile, Alabama scored 30 points on No. 2-seed Odessa College, and Shelton State Community College continued its run through the tournament by getting out to another big lead and holding off the Wranglers, 81-66, at the Rip Griffin Center on Thursday.
“It was very important,” Johnson said of getting off to the quick start. “If a team wasn’t good, they wouldn’t be here. So, for us starting out slow could put us in a bind in the third quarter and fourth quarter. It was very important for us to start off and jump on them early and get a cushion so that if we do mess up we’re still in the game.”
The win puts the Lady Buccaneers (33-2) into the semifinals for the second straight year where they will face either Chipola College or Trinity Valley – which eliminated Shelton State in the semifinals last year – at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“I’m excited. Back-to-back final fours,” Shelton State head coach Madonna Thompson said. “I’m just so happy for them. I told them before the game that great opportunities don’t come around very often. Speaking as a player, and as a coach, being in a final four, the pinnacle of basketball where everybody wants to end up at the end of the year, is priceless. It’s something they’ll be remembered for the rest of their lives.”
Raven Russell added 14 points for the Shelton State, which ended the game on a 16-6 run after Odessa (29-2) had cut the Lady Bucs lead to seven at 67-60 with 3:46 to play.
But a layup by Dana Echols and a steal and layup by Johnson pushed the lead back to double digits, and inside buckets by Madison Pierce and LaTangellia Walker followed by a Johnson jumper with 1:27 left put the game away for the Lady Bucs.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Shelton State,” Odessa head coach Ara Baten said. “They played great, they were well prepared, they’re talented. We felt like transition defense was going to be important, and it turns out it was. We fought back from such a big deficit and expended so much energy getting back into the game that by the last two or three minutes the kids that were on the floor just spent. They were done.”
Odessa struggled to not only contain Johnson and the Lady Bucs but could not convert their own opportunities on the offensive end. Odessa shot under 34 percent from the floor and hit just 7 of 26 from 3-point range and 13 of 27 from the free-throw line.
By contrast, Shelton State hit 47.7 percent from the floor, but more importantly, was 13 of 16 from the charity stripe.
“I think that’s one of those things,” Baten said of the free-throw struggles. “These guys are talented, they played well. I think it’s mostly you have to give credit to the team that won. They were great today.”
Mariah McCully led three Wranglers in scoring with 14 points while Lala Robinson added 12 and Moa Lundqvist 11.
Shelton State came out of the gates firing, scoring the first nine points of the game. Russell scored eight of her points in the first quarter while Johnson had six, helping the Lady Buccaneers jump out to a 13-3 lead midway through the period.
With McCully picking up two early fouls, Dominque Maxwell came off the bench to keep the Wranglers in the game, scoring Odessa’s first eight points before back-to-back 3-pointers by McCully pulled made it a seven-point game the end of the period, 21-14.
Odessa pulled to within six early in the second quarter before an 8-0 run helped Shelton re-establish the double-digit lead at 32-18 with 5:35 left in the half.
Trailing 37-23, Odessa had a chance to cut into the lead with three straight trips to the free-throw line, but hit just one of six attempts That allowed Shelton to maintain its double-digit lead, 39-28, at halftime.
Johnson led the Lady Bucs with 14 first-half point and Russell added 10.
Maxwell, who had just two points after the first eight early in the game, had 10 for the Wranglers.