Tyler Junior College complete miracle run with 67th national title, beating Georgia Highlands 92-80 in NJCAA championship game.
LUBBOCK, Texas – Trenia Tillis Hoard landed in Tyler 22 years ago with big shoes to fill as the head coach of the Tyler Junior College women’s basketball program.
The Apaches had just captured the 2000 national championship and Tills Hoard was taking over for Lee Ann Riley, who was a former player at Tyler and coached the Apaches from 1994 to 2000, winning just shy of 70 percent of her games. To say there was big shoes to fill was an understatement.
And for more than two decades, Tillis Hoard has had to walk by the trophy case in the gymnasium that identifies all 66 of the school’s national championships. The Apaches have been in the NJCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship and last year had one of their better finishes in recent history, losing in the quarterfinals. Tills Hoard has wondered numerous times when she will get her’s
She can wonder no more.
Nadechka Laccen poured in a game-high 26 points to go with 12 rebounds, tournament Most Valuable Player Deborah Ogayemi had her fifth double-double in as many tournament games with 16 points and 16 rebounds, and the 17th-seeded Apaches (28-8) surged past No. 3 seed Georgia Highlands (32-3) in the second half for a 92-80 victory Monday night at the Rip Griffin Center, giving Tyler that title that has been so elusive this century.
“It’s been over and over in my head for so long,” Tillis Hoard said. “Every day I have to walk buy by that trophy case, and it just signals, it says 66 national titles. And I’m like, ‘I want 67’ and I said it every year. Right before we left, I made the girls take a picture right in front of it and I made them touch the 66, and told them we’ve got to bring home 67.”
Taryn Wills added 21 points for the Apaches, who used an 11-2 run midway through the third quarter to take the lead, then opened the second half on a 13-4 run to take control of the game at 55-43 with 5:06 to play in the period.
From there, the Apaches held off the Lady Chargers at every turn, including one last late push.
Trailing 78-62 with 4:23 to play, the Lady Chargers went on a 16-6 run to close to within 84-78 with 1:34 seconds to play. But the Apaches put the game away by 14 straight free throws in the final 2:51 of the game, including eight straight in the final 52 seconds.
Shadiya Thomas added 15 points for the Apaches, bringing to fruition the prediction she made after the Apaches’ tournament-opening win that they would win it all.
“I feel great,” Thomas said amidst the confetti and the celebration. “I said it, I said it the first day and I’m just happy we got to showcase it and we actually got it done. We just got on each other. Toward the end of the season we were able to get on each other about little things and wanting more from each other. That’s what we did today.”
Jashanti Simmons led the Lady Chargers with 23 points and Alexandra Shishkina added 22 in the losing effort.
The Apaches took control of the game by doing what they do best – running the floor, creating turnovers and turning those turnovers into points. Each team had 23 turnovers in the game, but the Apaches converted the ones they created into a 29-19 edge in scoring while also outscoring Georgia Highlands 22-11 in second-chance points thanks to a 50-46 edge in rebounding.
“We just kept playing,” Tillis Hoard said. “That makes a big difference when you keep playing and keep fighting.
“I told our kids that running teams don’t like it when you run against them. They want to run on you, but they don’t want to have to run on defense, they only one to run on one end. So, I told them if they were going to come at us, we were going to go back at them, and I thought the kids were smart with that.”
Georgia Highlands came out as the aggressor in the first half and took the game to the Apaches. The Lady Chargers shot 52.6 percent from the field in the first half and set the tone by hitting their first three shots from 3-point range.
The Lady Chargers were also effective in controlling the boards, something Tyler prides itself on. Georgia Highlands led 15-12 in rebounding in the first quarter and allowed Tyler just seven second-chance points in the period to grab a 23-20 lead after 10 minutes.
“It was absolutely scary,” Tillis Hoard said of the start. “We knew they were hot, but they couldn’t stay hot that long. We just need to play some solid defense. Once we got our sea legs under us, we started to play TJC type of basketball. We knew they could score, we knew they were fast and we had to stop them in transition.”
But Tyler slowly began to assert itself in the second quarter, and by the intermission were in control with a 42-39 lead.
Georgia Highlands appeared to be about to run away with the game as a 9-2 run gave the Lady Chargers a 32-24 lead with 6:33 left. That’s when Tyler went to work on both ends of the floor and turned the game around.
It started with eight straight points to tie the game at 32. Laccen had five straight to close that run, getting a three-point play and a 15-footer that tied the game. After two Crystal Corley free throws gave Georgia Highlands the lead back, Deborah Ogayemi went to work with three straight points that put Tyler up 35-34, its first lead since 2-0, and Trinitee Alexander closed the 13-2 run with a layup.
Immediately, Georgia Highlands came right back and Shishkina scored five straight points, including a 3-poitner from the corer, to put the Lady Chargers back in front. But Laccen answered for Tyler with two free throws and a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Apaches the three-point lead at the break.
From there, the Apaches dominated the second half en route to the win.
“It just feels great for it to be us that came through,” Thomas said.