Simmons’ late heroics rally Georgia Highlands past Southern Idaho, 65-62
LUBBOCK, Texas – Rasheka Simmons had tallied just two points through the first three quarters of Georgia Highlands College’s opening-round game of the NJCAA Women’s Division I National Championship on Monday.
But when her team needed her most, she came up huge down the stretch, despite doing all of it with four fouls.
Simmons scored nine of her 11 points in the second half, including seven points in a game-ending 10-0 run, and the No. 13-seed Lady Chargers rallied from a seven-point deficit for a 65-62 victory over No. 20 seed College of Southern at the Rip Griffin Center.
“At tournament time, the other team knows who your major players are, and you need that extra kid,” Georgia Highlands head coach Brandan Harrell said. “You need that extra little umph. Simmons saved the day for us. She’s capable of making those plays and she’s made big plays for us this year, and it was a heck of a time to make a couple more.”
The win sends the Lady Chargers (20-4) on to the second around where they will face No. 4 seed South Plains College at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Southern Idaho’s season ends at 19-6.
Things looked bleak for the Lady Chargers with just over two minutes to play. Southern Idaho had gone on a 7-0 spurt to take a 62-55 lead with 2:38 to play, the largest lead of the game for either team.
Harrell challenged his team to find a way to make some plays, and they did just that. A pair of free throws and a layup by Jashanti Simmons off a steal pulled Georgia Highlands to within three. Another steal resulted in a Rasheka Simmons layup that put the Lady Chargers ahead for good.
Still, Southern Idaho had its chances. But another Georgia Highlands steal and a five-second call on an inbound allowed Rasheka Simmons to hit another layup, then she iced it with 14.6 seconds to go with two free throws.
Southern Idaho had a 3-point attempt by Kaitlin Burgess blocked, then Kyra Paniora missed a desperation three from the top of the key at the buzzer, sending Georgia Highlands on to the next round.
“Someone had to make a play and we had a couple of kids step up and make plays,” Harrell said. “In tournament time, everybody plays hard, everybody wants to win, everybody runs good stuff, and everybody’s well-coached. You’ve got to have kids make plays and we were fortunate to make a couple in a row that got us going.”
Jashanti Simmons finished with a game-high 16 points for the Lady Chargers while Rasheka Simmons was joined by Jada Alston and Alexandria Shishkina with 11 points apiece.
Burgess led Southern Idaho with 13 points and Ashlee Strawbridge added 10 in the loss.
Both teams started off with hot streaks, Georgia Highlands getting 3-pointers from Shishkina, Alston and Jashanti Simmons to take an early 9-2 lead. But Southern Idaho answered with 10 straight points, six of them from Strawbridge to regain the lead and take a 16-13 lead after the first eight minutes.
Georgia Highlands then used its aggressiveness on offense to get the lead back from the free-throw line. The Lady Chargers made 15 trips to the charity stripe in the second quarter and hit on 11 of them, which negated the Golden Eagles hitting on 50 percent (5 of 10) from the field in the period.
Trailing 27-24, Georgia Highlands went to the free-throw line three times in an 8-0 run that put the Lady Chargers up 32-27 with 1:43 to play in the first half. Southern Idaho, however, answered by closing the first half with a 6-2 run to pull to within a bucket at 34-32 at the intermission.
Turnovers played a big part of the first half as Georgia Highlands forced 10 Southern Idaho turnovers that led to 13 Lady Charger points.
The game remained a back-and-forth until the end when the Lady Chargers found a way to pull out the win.