Florida SouthWestern holds off Cochise in OT for tournament-opening victory
LUBBOCK, Texas – Tina Stephens poured in a game-high 34 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and No. 17 Florida SouthWestern State College held off Cochise College, 78-75, in overtime in the opening game of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball National Championship at the Rip Griffin Center.
Florida SouthWestern (30-3) led by as much as 19 points late in the second quarter before Cochise (27-4) put on a furious rally, tying the game late in the fourth quarter then making some key plays defensively down the stretch to send it to overtime.
Cochise led by four with just over 2 minutes left in the extra period, but Florida SouthWestern closed the game with a 12-5 run to secure the win.
“I thought we started off with a lot of energy and face-paced, and was able to execute our offense,” Florida SouthWestern head coach Kristie Ward said. “Then they adjusted very well and went to the zone, and that caused us a little bit of a problem. But I was just super proud of the drive and the effort to hang on, even though when we were down (four) we still battled back and got some hustle plays.”
With the win, the Bucs advance to the second round and will face overall No. 1 seed Wabash Valley College at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
Stephens scored 15 of her points in the opening period for the Buccaneers, who shot 64.3 percent (9 of 14) in the opening 10 minutes and showed zero nerves from their first NJCAA tournament appearance.
“I just wanted to come out and do the best I could for my team to advance to the next round,” Stephens said. “I tried not to think too much, tried to go hard as I can and work as hard as I can and come out with the win”
The Bucs were on cruise control for the first half before Cochise began to chip away in the second half and, in particular, the fourth quarter.
Trailing 53-42 early in the final period, the Apaches used their zone defense – which head coach Laura Hughes said she rarely, if ever, plays – to get back into the game. Cochise opened the quarter on a 10-0 run to pull to within 3, and back-to-back buckets by LaPraisjah Johnson at the 3:20 mark tied the game at 58.
“We adjusted,” Hughes said. “They’re athletic and they’re physical, and that’s not something we see every night. It just took us a quarter to adjust to that and understand what it’s like at that level to play a little big stronger and to really pay attention to the details. But we did a great job adjusting and made a difference, it just took us a little bit to get out of the hole”
Johnson then hit two free throws with 51.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 62. Florida SouthWestern had two chances win it in regulation but couldn’t convert.
“We definitely felt like we had the momentum to push through, but like coach said, just the little details, we needed to execute better,” Johnson said.
Cochise appeared to take control of the game in overtime, and when Raena Suggs hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the Apaches had their biggest lead of the game at 70-66 with 2:15 to play.
But Nairimar Vargas-Reyes answered right back with her third trey of the game to pull the Bucs back to within one, and Simone Lett added a jumper 19 seconds later to put the Bucs back in front for good. Vargas-Reyes got a steal and fed Stephens for a bucket with 46 seconds to play, and the Bucs sealed it with five free throws in the final 32 seconds.
Suggs led Cochise with 24 points while Awa Keita, who is signed with the University of Southern Illinois-Carbondale, added 14 points. Yemiayah Morris chipped in 11 points and 18 rebounds.
Vargas-Reyes finished with 15 points for the Bucs and Shondell Vickers added 11 in the win.