Salt Lake rallies past Jones County, 81-75, for first national semifinal berth
LUBBOCK, Texas – Salt Lake Community College was knocked out of the national tournament in the quarterfinals last year, and was staring the same fate in the face for most of its game Thursday against Jones County Junior College
That’s when Tia Hay took over. The freshman from Australia had been held to just four points through the first 32 minutes of the contest, well below here 18-points-per-game average. But her two 3-pointers in the final 2:31 of the game and the 23-point effort from Annie Brady helped push the Bruins ahead for good, and Salt Lake held off 13th-seed Jones County, 81-75, in the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at the Rip Griffin Center.
“I can finally take a deep breath,” a relieved Salt Lake head coach Betsy Specketer said. “Needless to say I’m really, really proud that we got punched hard in the first quarter and could have hung them up right there and we didn’t. We kept it close, kept chipping away. I felt the momentum starting to turn there at the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter we made some really big plays on both sides of the ball. They were plays we had to make and made some big foul shots down the stretch just to win it.”
The win puts the Bruins (30-4) into the final four where they will face No. 1-seed Gulf Coast State at 5 p.m. on Friday.
Alexis Tolefree led all scorers with 27 points for Jones County (30-2), and her third 3-pointer of the game pulled the Bobcats to within 76-75 with 1:01 to play. But it would be as close as Jones County would get as a Hay 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two free throws from Karina Brandon, who had 12 points and eight rebounds, with 14.8 seconds left iced the game for the Bruins.
Jones County had a difficult time containing Brady inside. She hit 10 of 17 from the floor and pulled down 10 rebounds.
“We just have really good coaching and in the timeouts the coaches just reinforced using your moves,” Brady said. “It was just a big team effort. We had some good communication on the help-side (defense) and good effort.”
The loss came after Jones County got out to a huge lead and held the advantage until an Annie Brady layup gave Salt Lake its first lead of the game at 69-68 with 3:42 to play. Jones County would regain the lead and tie it up at 72 on a Kira Bonner layup, but four straight points by Sica Cuzic, who finished with 16 points, would give the Bruins the lead for good.
“You’ve got to go give credit to Salt Lake, they made some really big shots down the stretch and shot the ball well,” Jones County head coach Missy Bilderback said. “They played with a lot of poise. We haven’t been in a lot of close games. I think we’ve had three that came down to the final minutes all year, and I think a little bit of panic set in late and they made shots.”
Tatyana Lofton added 19 points in the loss for Jones County, which was making the first national tournament appearance in school history. Nique Cherry added 14 points.
Hay and Brandon finished with 12 each for the Bruins.
The Bobcats picked up Friday right where they left off from their first two victories. Tolefree completed a four-point play as part of a game-opening 12-2 run, and an 8-2 outburst staked the Bobcats to a 20-9 lead late in the first period.
Her second 3-pointer of the half put Jones County up 27-15 early in the second period, and the Bobcats maintained that advantage for most of the rest of the half.
A 3-pointer by Rian Rawlings with 1:32 to play cut the Jones County lead to seven at 36-29, but Lofton answered with five straight points to put the lead back to double digits, ending up a 41-31 at the intermission.
Jones County finished the first half shooting 51.7 percent from the floor, including 50 percent (4 of 8) from the 3-point arc. Salt Lake had three 3-pointers of its own, but those came on 14 shots as the Bruins hit 38.2 percent overall from the floor.
Jones County’s athleticism was difficult for the Bruins to handle, as 10 of the Bobcats; 41 points came on the break. Jones County also outrebounded the Bruins 20-17.
Lofton led the Bobcats in the first half with 14 points and Tolefree added 11.
Brady led the Bruins with eight first-half points and Brandon chipped in six.