Apaches hoard the boards, find balanced scoring to earn shot in NJCAA title game with 88-76 win over Western Nebraska
LUBBOCK, Texas – The debate about whether rebounding is about skill, positioning or effort will continue to rage on as long as basketball games are played. What isn’t up for debate is that the team that does the best at it – however they want to do it – usually comes out on the winning end.
Trinity Junior College sophomore forward Deborah Ogayemi has turned rebounding into an artform and has put that artform on display in the NJCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship. She entered Sunday’s semifinal against Western Nebraska averaging a double-double in three games in the tournament so far, and struggled to score against the Cougars for most of the game.
But her rebounding was on point again, pulling down 19 boards, 11 on the offensive end, to go with seven points, and the Apaches found scoring in other areas to earn a spot in Monday’s national championship game with an 88-76 victory at the Rip Griffin Center.
“I love it,” Tyler head coach Trenia Tillis Hoard said. “The tenacity of rebounding, when you’ve got Debbie … that kid has a chance to do something special when she gets to another college. She has come to the tournament and elevated her game. Debbie’s always tenacious about getting rebounds, and she’s going to outwork every post player on the floor, outhustle, outmuscle, and she’s just that kind of kid you want around because she’s that workhorse.”
Ogayemi’s 19 rebounds give her 69 for the tournament, a record for a four-game series, breaking the old record of 64 set by Kim Wingard of Holmes Community College in 1992. As a team, the Apaches outrebounded Western Nebraska 58-42, including a 27-15 edge in offensive rebounds that led to a 32-14 edge in second-chance points.
Shadiya Thomas, Nadechka Laccen and Taryn Wills picked up the scoring slack for Tyler, pouring in 18, 15 and 14 points, respectively, for the Apaches, who will be making their first appearance in the title game since the program won it all in 2000, the year before head coach Trenia Tillis Hoard took over as head coach.
“It was more of just reading everything,” Thomas said. “I know, sometimes, we depend on Debbie to score and get rebounds. We’re good about, OK, if Debbie can’t score, we’re going to just let her get rebounds and someone else is going to pick up the slack. We’re really, really good about that. I think everybody just kind of picked up what certain people couldn’t put down today.”
The Apaches (27-8) will meet either Jones College (31-4) or Georgia Highlands College (31-2) in the title game at 7 p.m. on Monday.
“I’m excited,” Thomas said. “I told y’all two or three days ago that we were going to win it, so this is just one step closer.”
Ale’jah Douglas scored a game-high 31 points for Western Nebraska (30-3), but just 10 after halftime as Tyler found a way to put the clamps on her in the third quarter and first half of the fourth quarter while taking control of the game.
Up 56-55 with 2:15 to play in the third quarter, the Apaches ended the period on a 7-2 run to tie its biggest lead of the game at 63-57 going into the fourth quarter. After Western Nebraska pulled to within four, Tyler scored the game’s next 10 points, five of which came from Thomas to go up 77-62 with 4:29 to play.
“The kids just decided we’re going to knock down shots, we’re going to take smart shots, and if we don’t take good shots or simply miss a shot, we were tenacious about going and getting second chances,” Hoard said. “The more we get second chances the more it gives us opportunities to shoot the basketball, and I think that’s what wore them down. Then our transition defense got better in the fourth quarter.”
Western Nebraska pulled to within 10 points three times in the final 2:32 of the game but could get no closer.
Amani Brown finished with 10 points for the Cougars
Douglas was almost unstoppable in the first half with 19 points and scored in a variety of ways. She drained a couple of 3-pointers while shooting 7 of 13 from the field in the first 20 minutes and was 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. But it was as much about when she scored as it was how.
She opened the game by hitting three of Western Nebraska’s first six field goals through the first five minutes of the game, hitting a pair of drives and a 3-pointer, and the Cougars took advantage of a tentative start by the Apaches to go up 14-10 midway through the first period.
“The slow start for us was more of us just getting into our groove more than anything,” Thomas said. “We knew we were shooting some shots that we probably shouldn’t shoot, and then some shots just didn’t go down. For us it was just pushing through it.”
Tyler, however, found a way to slow her down over the last half of the second quarter and first half of the second, limiting her to just three points in that span. That defensive effort fueled the Apaches’ offense as a Shadiya Thomas 3-pointer from the right wing kickstarted a 7-2 run to end the first quarter and put Tyler up 22-21.
The game stayed close for most of the second quarter until Tyler took its biggest lead of the half with 4:18 to play on a pair of Deborah Ogayemi free throws. Ogayemi, who averaged in double figures in scoring coming into the game, was held to just those two points in the first half but did have six rebounds as the Cougars defense did a good job not letting her get loose.
Thomas led the Apaches in the first half with eight points and Tia Morgan chipped in seven.
After the Ogayemi free throws, however, Douglas returned to her dominant ways to lead Western Nebraska to a half-ending 11-2 run. She started and ended the run with a layup and in between had two free throws and a 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Cougars up 43-40 at the intermission.