Georgia Highlands outraces Trinity Valley, 84-73, for first national tournament semifinal appearance in program history
LUBBOCK, Texas – Jashanti Simmons scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and No. 3 seed Georgia Highlands College did what many teams struggled to do – stay and run with Trinity Valley Community College to the tune of an 84-73 victory over the Lady Cardinal in the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship Saturday night at the Rip Griffin Center.
O’Mariyah Tucker added 13 points, including a huge 3-point shot from the left corner off an inbounds pass that put the Lady Chargers up 10 with 1:26 to play and iced the win for Georgia Highlands (31-2), which will make its first appearance in the national tournament semifinals in program history. The Lady Chargers will face Jones College (31-4) at 6 p.m. on Sunday.
“The pace of play has been something that we’ve hung our hat on all year,” said Georgia Highlands coach Brandon Harrell, who established the program 2012. “I think that style that our players enjoy playing and we’ve had some success with it, and honestly that was a concern in prepping for Trinity is they are so fast and so athletic, they can match anybody’s pace and speed and athleticism. The ball bounced our way a couple of times, and we made a couple more shots. That’s a big-time win for our program.”
ShaoTung Lin and Jada Alston added 12 points apiece for Georgia Highlands and Crystal Corley chipped in 11 points for the Lady Chargers, who got 23 points on 17 Trinity Valley turnovers and outrebounded the Lady Cardinal 49-45. Georgia Highlands also limited Trinity Valley to just 2-for-17 from the 3-point line.
But it was a 7-0 run midway through the third quarter that made the difference for the Lady Chargers, turning a tenuous 47-44 lead into a 54-44 advantage with 2:01 left in the period. Trinity Valley would get to within 64-60 with 6:13 to play, but Georgia Highlands iced it at the free throw line.
“We just had to keep our head on what we were doing, and we couldn’t let them district from what we wanted to do,” said Simmons, who had seven of her 23 points in the fourth quarter and was 9 of 14 from the free-throw line. “I was pretty tough out there. I didn’t have a good game yesterday and I knew I couldn’t let my team down and had to show up today.”
The teams combined for 72 free throws in the game, with Georgia Highlands hitting 27 of 41 and Trinity Valley 21 of 31. In the fourth quarter alone, the Lady Chargers hit 12 of 20 from the charity stripe.
“Lot of credit to Trinity Valley,” Harrell said. “It was an absolute war, and I told our team there’s a lot of pride in that lockerroom. They’ve won a lot of national championships and we knew the weren’t going to lay down. They were going to come at us with everything they had, and they did. Lot of credit to them but a lot of credit to our kids for weathering that storm and responding.”
Niyah Page led the Lady Cardinal with 20 points. Abby Carter chipped in 12 points and 18 rebounds while Alexis Brown and Brian Peguero added 11 points apiece.
For so many years at the national tournament, Trinity Valley has made a habit of running the opposition off the floor. But Saturday night, the Lady Chargers spent most of the first half doing that very thing to the Lady Cardinal.
Georgia Highlands outrebounded Trinity Valley 25-22 in the first half and held a 16-9 edge in points in the paint while forcing 10 Trinity turnovers. The Lady Chargers also did a good job limiting the Lady Cardinal’s outside shooting as Trinity finished the first half 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
The Lady Charges opened the game on a 7-0 run capped by a four-point play from Alexandra Shishkina, who was fouled on a made 3-pointer from the left wing. Three minutes later, the Lady Chargers finished a 6-0 run on a Simmons layup from a steal and led 16-6 midway through the first quarter.
Trinity Valley chipped away at the lead and cut it to five at 21-16 to start the second quarter, but Georgia Highlands picked up where it left off. Consecutive 3-pointers from Lin and Alston pushed the led back to double digits at 27-16 just over a minute into the quarter, and Trinity Valley could get no closer than nine the rest of the half.
“Every time they found a way to stop us we needed to find a way to stop them, too,” Lin said.
Simmons led the Lady Chargers in the first half with 15 points. Kaila Kelley and Page had six for the Lady Cardinal.