Georgia Highlands holds off Jones College for berth in national title game with 81-74 victory.
LUBBOCK, Texas – Jashanti Simmons took the ball on a drive to the basket and took a hard tumble to the floor on the shot attempt, laying on the floor for several moments in obvious pain, hardly able to move as her left arm was crumpled under her.
She eventually made it back to the bench where she spent the next few minutes recuperating. In her absence, Jones College made a run to cut a double-digit lead down to eight with about three minutes left in the third period, and Simmons made her way back into the game.
The first time she touched the ball, she drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing, and that helped Georgia Highlands College re-establish a double-digit lead. She then drained two key free throws down the stretch to help the Lady Chargers keep the Bobcats are arm’s length en route to an 81-74 victory in the semifinals of the NJCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship Sunday night at the Rip Griffin Center.
“Jashanti is a special offensive player, so anytime she’s on the floor we’re going to be a little bit better offensively,” Georgia Highlands head coach Brandon Harrell said. “But Jashanti also has the ability to make her teammates around her, get them more offensive opportunities. She gets a lot of attention and creates cracks and opportunities for her teammates. It’s not like we can’t perform with Jashanti not on the floor but when she’s on the floor, everybody has a little uptick in confidence offensively. That brings confidence and with that confidence you settle down a little bit and you’re able to make better decisions with the basketball.”
With the win, Georgia Highlands (32-2) will meet Tyler Junior College (27-8) for the national title at 7 p.m. For Georgia Highlands, it is its first appearance in the title game in program history, which started in 2012.
“Before I can get to the next game I’ve got to digest and process this one. That was a war,” said Harrell, who started the program 10 years ago. “I think we just had a little better shooting night from the perimeter, just a couple possessions the ball bounced our way.”
The Lady Chargers used a 10-2 run to end the first half and take a 38-26 lead into the lockerroom, and they maintained that advantage for most of the third quarter. But when Simmons went out of the game – she had scored 19 points to that point in the contest – Jones (31-5) scored six of the next eight points to cut the deficit to 51-43 with 3:25 to play.
Thirteen second later, Simmons started a 7-0 run to put the Lady Chargers back up 58-43 which led to a 61-47 advantage going into the fourth quarter. She finished with a team-high 23 points.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Olivia Knight and Jordan Clark pulled Jones to within five at 71-66 with 3:45 to play, but Georgia Highland iced the win by going 8 of 10 from the free-throw line over the final 2:20, including a perfect 8-for-8 in the final 1:08.
“We just had to step it up more on the defensive end and just force them to take shots they didn’t want to take and just crash the boards,” said sophomore guard Crystal Corley, who had 15 points and seven rebounds.”
Jones actually outrebounded Georgia Highlands in the game, 41-37, but the Lady Chargers negated the advantage with their defense, forcing 21 Bobcats turnovers that resulted in a 25-12 advantage in points from those turnovers.
“Honestly, when we first came here (to the national tournament), it was tough and we had to adjust (to the physical play),” said freshman guard Jada Alston. “With the positive energy we bring to the team, it just helps keep us going strong.”
Meloney Thames led all scorers with 28 points for the Bobcats, who were seeking their first title game berth in school history, doing so as the No. 23 seed in the tournament. Sakyia White added 18 points and 12 rebounds, giving her 82 boards for the four games, breaking the tournament record set in the other semifinal game by Tyler Junior College’s Deborah Ogayemi.
Knight and Clark finished with 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the Bobcats.
ShaoTung Lin added 13 points and six assists for the Lady Chargers.
The majority of the first half was an even battle between the teams, Jones shot the ball extremely well in the first quarter, hitting on 8 of 12 from the field and finishing the first half 11 of 23 (47.8 percent). Georgia Highlands shot 35.1 percent from the field (13 od 37) but were more aggressive and hit 9 of 11 from the free-throw line.
Where Georgia Highlands thrived was in turnovers, scoring 13 points off 14 Jones giveaways while Jones had just three on four Lady Chargers turnovers. Georgia Highlands also had 12 of its points on the break.
But it wasn’t until late in the second quarter that Georgia Highlands took control. Up 23-22, Corley hit a layup and Simmons followed with her second 3-pointer of the half. The Lady Chargers then ended the half on a 10-2 run, scoring the last seven points including four free throws with 20 seconds left after a hard foul and technical foul on White.
White led the Bobcats with eight points while Simmons poured in 16 for the Lady Chargers.