Shelton State uses late-game surge to claim third place with 67-62 win over Salt Lake
LUBBOCK, Texas – It would have been really easy for both Salt Lake Community College and Shelton State College to come out in Saturday’s third-place game at the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament and just gone through the motions.
After all, both teams were disappointed in not advancing to the championship game instead of playing for third place, each one having come so close in their respective games Friday night. But if both teams had come out sluggish, it would have been a big disservice to both their seasons.
It might have been for third place, but being the third-best team in the nation is a pretty big deal in itself, and instead of sluggish, both teams were energized. And it took overtime to determine a winner.
In the end, Shelton State was able to make a few more plays in the fourth quarter and overtime to complete a stellar five-game run with a 67-62 victory, tying the highest finish at the national tournament in school history set just last year.
“We took the situation we were in and took the best of it and took advantage of it,” Shelton State head coach Madonna Thompson said. “You’re going to take home a trophy, I’d rather it say third than fourth on it. I’d rather come out here and get four wins than just three. I didn’t want to come home with two losses.”
Freshman guard Cierra Johnson scored a game-high 30 points, and the Lady Bucs (34-3) outscored Salt Lake (30-6) 19-5 in the final six minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime.
Johnson had 11 of her 30 points in that stretch as the Lady Bucs turned a 57-48 deficit into a 59-all tie to send the game to overtime, then held the Bruins to just three points in the extra period.
‘We all came into the game with the idea that we should have been in the championship game,” Johnson said. “But things didn’t go well so we were going to play the third-place game like the championships game and play as good a game as we can.”
Karina Brandon led Salt Lake with 17 points while Tia Hay and Annie Brady added 14 and Sica Cuzic 10 in the loss.
“Our sophomore class is leaving with an overall record of 68-5,” Thompson said. “This year I got my 500th career win a few games back and now I’m looking at it and that sophomore class got 68 wins for me. That’s huge. The freshmen, this just made them hungrier and they say, ‘hey, we can win a national championship.’ The good thing about it is we’ve got a lot of these kids coming back. They see now what it looks like at the national level.”
The Bruins appeared headed toward the victory early in the fourth quarter after Olivia Elliss drained a 3-pointer with 6:13 to play, capping a 10-0 outburst from the start of the period, putting Salt Lake up nine.
But a Kimberly Parrish jumper and three straight buckets in the paint, two from Johnson, pulled the Lady Bucs to within one at 57-56. After a Sica Cuzic layup, Johnson scored the final three points of the fourth quarter, tying it at 59 on a short jumper with 14.8 seconds to play.
“I thought they really turned up their defense and we got rattled,” Salt Lake head coach Betsy Specketer said. “I think they kind of fed off that quick turnover and scored of turnovers. Then they have a player like (Johnson) who is so dangerous that she takes a lot of attention and makes everyone around her better. We weren’t playing it safe necessarily, I just think we turned it over a couple times and they got some momentum back, and all of a sudden it’s a ballgame again.”
Salt Lake had chances in the final 30 seconds to regain the lead, but a five-second all on an inbounds play gave the ball to Shelton and allowed Johnson to hit the game-tying jumper, then Clarissa Sabedra was whistled for a charging foul with 7.6 seconds to play.
Margaret Robinson missed a trey from the left-corner at the buzzer, sending the game to overtime. From there, both teams went scoreless until Savannah Reier drained a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:10 to play, and Johnson added a pair of free throws to put the Lady Bucs up for good.
“I thought both teams played really, really hard,” Specketer said. “It was amazing that the girls had enough in the tank to make it as competitive as it was. I couldn’t be prouder of the effort. At the end of the day you give everything you have and leave it all out on the floor and you can be proud of that.”
Neither team showed any sluggishness from playing in emotional semifinal losses the night before, shooting the ball well. But it was Shelton that landed the first big blow of the game late in the first period.
Trailing 11-8, the Lady Bucs scored 13 of the next 16 points, including eight in a row inside the final three minutes after Salt Lake had taken at 14-13 lead on a Bella Harrington 3-pointer.
Johnson scored the final four points of the run to put Shelton State up 21-14 before Olivia Elliss hit a bucket at the buzzer to pull the Bruins to within five at the break.
That bucket kickstarted the Bruins, who opened the second quarter with four straight points to pull to within one at 21-20. They trailed 28-24 with 6:40 to play in the half before reeling off three straight buckets to regain the lead at 31-28.
But Ebony Norman’s running jumper with 3:06 would be the last points of the half for the Bruins as Shelton State closed the half with a 9-0 run, the final seven coming from Johnson as she finished the first half with 17 points.
Shelton State’s defense was also on point in the first half, forcing 13 Salt Lake turnovers that gave the Lady Bucs a 20-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
Norman led the Bruins with 10 points