Free throws down the stretch help Hutchinson hold off Casper, 73-70
LUBBOCK, Texas – Mya Williams and Tor’e Alford combined for 31 points, none bigger than the four free throws with under a minute to play, and Hutchinson Community College survived to upset Casper College, 73-70, in the opening round of the NJCAA Women’s Division I Basketball Championship on Tuesday at the Rip Griffin Center.
Mele Kailahi added 17 points and 12 rebounds for Hutchinson, including a crucial seven-point stretch midway through the fourth quarter that put the Blue Dragons (29-5) up 62-54 with 3:56 to play, a lead they would not relinquish. Casper (28-5) got within a possession multiple times in the final 2:30 of the game but could not close the gap completely.
“We talked about it at halftime about how we weren’t being aggressive and settling or threes,” said Williams who finished with a game-high 20 points. “We put it upon our selves to attack more and try to get to the basket more and get to the free-throw line.”
With the win, the Blue Dragons advance to the quarter finals to face Georgia Highlands at 5 p.m. on Friday.
Dejaan Schuler had 15 points for the Thunderbirds, including two of her three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the final one pulling Casper to within 55-54 with 5:36 to play.
“Casper has an exceptional team … very balanced and they do a great job of moving without the basketball, and they’re very patient and execute very well,” Hutchinson coach John Ontjes said. “We knew it would be a tough matchup.
“It was definitely a tough, hard-fought battle. I thought our kids competed and played really good basketball for 40 minutes.”
But Kailahi answered with seven straight points, including a 3-pointer of her own and two free throws, to extend the lead to 62-54.
“I was just trying hard not to foul as much,” said Kailahi, who played a good portion of the second half with four fouls, “and to get us on a run. I knew I had to be a spark off the bench.”
Williams hit a pair of free throws with 2:30 to play to put the Blue Dragons up 67-59, but Casper made one last gasp as Sandra Frau-Garcia hit a layup and Joesana Vaz hit two free throws to pull the Thunderbirds to within 67-63 with 1:47 remaining.
Schuler then made it 68-66 with a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it a one-possession game. After a free throw by Chanteese Craig, Casper twice pulled to within one before Williams iced it with two free throws with 12.7 to play. Casper got off two good looks from three but couldn’t find the bottom of the net before the buzzer sounded.
Alford finished with 11 points for Hutchinson.
Frau-Garcia paced Casper with 18 points while Kate Robertson had 11.
The first half was a stark contrast in styles – the outside shooting of the Blue Dragons against the inside game of the Thunderbirds. Both dominated at times which led to an even first half.
Hutchinson hit 4 of 15 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes, but it was when those threes came that made the difference. Alford and Janaya Washington hit 3-pointers as part of a second-quarter surge that led to a 32-22 lead for the Blue Dragons midway through the quarter.
But Casper countered by going to the 6-foot-2 Robertson, who scored 10 first-half points and had a pair of buckets as part of a 9-2 run that closed the first half and pulled the Thunderbirds to within three at 34-31 at the intermission.
Despite having a decided inside presence, however, the Thunderbirds were outrebounded 19-14, and the two teams were even in points in the paint at 18 apiece. Where Casper had the advantage was at the free-throw line, going 9-for-11 while Hutchinson was just 2 of 4. Casper also had just two turnovers in the entire first half.
Williams scored 10 of her 12 first-half points in the first quarter to help push Hutchinson to the early lead.