Northeast Oklahoma A&M’s upset bid comes up short as New Mexico JC prevails, 61-59
LUBBOCK, Texas – Shaniya Mitchell scored a game-high 17 points, and fourth-seeded New Mexico Junior College held off Northeast Oklahoma A&M with just enough made free throws for a 61-59 victory in the second round of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship Wednesday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Dezirae Hampton added 13 points for the Lady Thunderbirds (31-2), who advance to the Elite 8 to face either the College of Southern Idaho or Blinn College at 5 p.m. Thursday for a shot in the final four.
“It was a hard-fought, physical game plagued by fouls,” NJMC head coach Drew Sanders said. “It was one of those games that wasn’t really pretty but that’s actually want we wanted, we just didn’t want to get into foul trouble like that. We wanted a half-court game because they’re such prolific shooters. To hold them to 59 points and they’ve been averaging 81, I’d say we did a pretty good job.”
Kate Zhibareva added 10 points for NMJC, but it took the Lady Thunderbirds getting some key stops and going 7 for 10 at the free throw line during a key stretch to build a four-point lead going into the final 20 seconds of the game to seal the victory.
Northeast Oklahoma A&M (29-4) overcame a rough first quarter to tie the game late in the third quarter and were within a bucket at several points along the way in the fourth quarter but could not close the gap completely.
NEO stayed within striking distance even until the last seconds. Down three, Kamry Chamberlain went to the free throw line with 1.7 seconds remaining. She hit the first but intentionally missed the second, and Nycolle Smith grabbed the rebound for NMJC as time expired.
Maria Suarez led the Lady Norse with 15 points and Shalie McAlister added 12 in the defeat, which saw the Lady Norse outrebounded 55-35, including allowing NMJC 20 offensive rebounds.
“I’ve got to give my kids credit, they never quit fighting,” NEO head coach Jim Rowland said. “We were still in the game with (1.7) seconds left on the clock with a chance to win it and still had a chance with five seconds on the clock. But you can’t give up 20 offensive rebounds. That was critical for us.”
The Lady Norse got off to a horrible start, missing their first seven shots and committing three turnovers before hitting their first field goal almost 5 minutes in to the game. That allowed NMJC to jump out to a quick 9-3 lead.
But Northeast Oklahoma slowly reeled the Lady Thunderbirds in by forcing turnovers, 13 in the first half, and tied the game at 11 on a free throw by Nikola Nedoroscikova.
Tied at 14, NMJC proceeded to score the next eight points to forge a 22-14 lead and expanded it to 28-18 on a Sarah Short free throw with 2:37 left in the first half.
NEO, however, closed the first half on a 9-2 run to pull to within 30-27 at the intermission. The Lady Norse finished the first half shooting 25.8 percent (8 of 31) and were led by eight points each from Suarez and McAlister.
The Lady Thunderbirds shot 41.7 percent in the first half led by eight points from Zhibareva and seven from Hampton. NMJC also dominated on the boards, outrebounding NEO 28-15.
NMJC expanded the lead again in the third to 35-29 and were on the verge of taking control before NEO reeled off nine unanswered points to take a 38-35 lead. New Mexico, however, led 40-38 going into the fourth thanks to five straight points from Mitchell in the final 1:11 of the third.
Try as they might, the Lady Thunderbirds could not put the game away and allowed NEO a chance to tie or take the lead several times in the closing seconds. But the Lady Norse failed to take advantage.