Trinity Valley holds off Shelton State for second straight year to reach NJCAA title game.
LUBBOCK, Texas – One rematch is down, and the other rematch is set. But it didn’t come easy.
Trinity Valley Community College built a big lead in the second half the had to hold on and watch as Shelton State College made a furious comeback. In the end, however, the Lady Cardinals hit just enough free throws and got key stops in the final minute to capture a 68-66 victory over the Lady Bucs in the semifinals of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship at the Rip Griffin Center.
Naomi Davenport scored a team-high 20 points, and Christalah Lyons and Shakeela Fowler hit some big shots and some bigger free throws down the stretch to preserve the win and send the Lady Cardinals to the title game for the second straight year.
“We knew in the third quarter and the fourth quarter it was going to reach a moment where we couldn’t score,” Trinity Valley head coach Gerald Ewing said. “It’s hard to get four good quarters. I knew they were going to make a run, but that was making it way harder than we have to make it, I think.”
For the second straight year, the Lady Cardinals will meet Gulf Coast State in the championship game at 7 p.m. on Saturday looking for the school’s ninth national championship.
“For the four returners I know we’ve had that edge to get back to the championship game and play them,” Davenport said. “We told the nine newcomers coming in we were going to get to this game and it was a possibility that we would get back and play them again, and in our heads we’ve been thinking Gulf Coast and playing them. Now we have a chance to finish it.”
The Lady Bucs (33-3) trailed by as much as 13 early in the third quarter as Trinity Valley did a good job of putting the defensive clamps on Shelton State guard Cierra Johnson, who came into the game averaging 25 points in three tournament games. But they couldn’t hold her down forever, and she helped the Lady Bucs come all the way back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.
But it was an 11-0 run over the last two minutes of the third quarter and the first 80 seconds of the fourth that got Shelton back in the game. That pulled Shelton to within 52-51 with 8:40 to play.
The teams then traded 6-0 runs until Shelton state took the lead at 59-58 on a Raven Russell layup – the first lead for the Lady Bucs since leading 6-4 in the first quarter.
“That ballgame was lost in the first half,” said Shelton State head coach Madonna Thompson, who led her team to the semifinals for the second straight year, losing both times to Trinity Valley.
“We did not come out with energy, with intensity, which is the key for us to win ballgames. That’s the way we play and we just didn’t have enough of it in the first half. And (Trinity Valley) came out and shot the lights out of it. I think some of it was due to our lack of intensity and our speed. Did we have opportunities at the end to win? Yeah, we had some nice opportunities.”
The lead went back and forth until a key sequence gave Trinity Valley the lead for good. Lyons put the Lady Cardinals up 64-63 on a layup on which she was fouled. She missed the free throw, but Davenport was right there for the rebound and putback to make it 66-63 with 42.6 seconds to play.
“That was a killer,” Thompson said. “There’s no excuse for missing a box out on the free-throw line.”
From there, Shelton State had several looks at the basket and even went to the free throw line with a chance to tie or take the lead but could not complete the comeback.
“That was the play of the game for us,” Ewing said. “That was a great putback. That was the play of the game for us to win it as far as giving us the momentum.”
Johnson finished with 14 points for the Lady Bucs while LaTangellia Walker added 11 and Raven Russell 10 in the loss.
Lyons and Malayasia McHenry had 10 points each for Trinity Valley.
After Johnson opened with five of Shelton State’s first eight points, Trinity Valley shut her down and limited the sharpshooting guard to just two points the rest of the first half. With Johnson on lockdown, the Lady Cardinals went to work on the offensive end.
Tied at 8, Trinity Valley used a 6-0 run to take control of the game, and in the process Johnson picked up her second foul with 2:52 to play in the first quarter. Without her, the Lady Bucs scored just five more points the rest of the first quarter and trailed 17-13.
Trinity Valley took its biggest lead of the game to that point with 6:51 left in the first half after McHenry hit back-to-back buckets to put the Lady Cardinals up 23-16. But Shelton State would not go away as a Kimberly Parrish free throw followed by a Walker putback and 3-pointer from Kendrea Dawkins pulled the Lady Bucs to within one at 23-22.
That’s when Davenport and Monique Mills answered. Davenport hit treys on successive trips down the floor and Mills added another, and just like that Trinity Valley led 32-22 with 2:12 left to play in the first half.
A Walker 3-pointer and layup by Johnson pulled the Lady Bucs to within 32-27 with just over a minute left, but Mills capped the half with her second try to give Trinity Valley a 35-27 lead at the intermission.
Shelton State struggled to keep the Lady Cardinals out of the low post. Trinity Valley won the first-half rebounding battle 20-15 and outscored Shelton State 16-6 on points in the paint.
Fowler led Trinity Valley in the first half with seven points. Walker paced the Lady Bucs with 11.