EDUARDO MIRANDA NEWS-SUN
March 22, 2019
EDUARDO MIRANDA/NEWS-SUN NMJC's Eternati Willock makes the block in the first quarter against Wabash Valley. The Lady T-Birds upset the top seeded and undefeated Lady Warriors to reach the semifinals.
LUBBOCK – Thursday afternoon in the Rip Griffin Center, the New Mexico Junior College women's basketball team faced the top seeded Wabash Valley College of Illinois.
NMJC (28-5) faced a tough task if it wanted to reach the semifinals of the NJCAA tournament as it had to hand the Lady Warriors (32-1) their first loss of the season. Wabash Valley had only two games where it won by three points the other 30 games were by double digits.
After 40 minutes of play, the Lady T-Birds defeated Wabash Valley 63-59 to advance to the semifinals of the NJCAA tournament. The Lady T-Birds reached the semifinals with 15 points scored off second chances and out-rebounding the Lady Warriors 42-36.
Eternati Willock led the Lady T-birds with a double-double 16 points and 12 rebounds. Jurnee President finished with 16 points, with 12 coming behind the three-point line. Thamires Andrade added 13 and Syd-nee Wynn finished with 11 boards.
"Tremendous first half," NMJC head coach Drew Saunders said. "Came out the third quarter and weren't as aggressive. Of course, we knew they would make a run, talked about it at halftime. They started increasing their intensity on defense they started pressing. We weren't at the same intensity they were at that time and we let them make that run."
"It's a tough one," Wabash Valley head coach Jack Trosper said after the loss. "Because it was so close and we did so much to battle. Very proud of what we have and New Mexico is a great team. They are really, really good, they weren't preseason number one for nothing. They are very talented and they made some plays down the stretch when they needed to."
The Lady T-Birds enjoyed a strong first half over the unbeaten Lady Warriors. In what was a physical, up-tempo game where each team wanted to score before the opponent could set its defense, NMJC got the better of Wabash Valley.
The first quarter saw the Lady T-Birds start the game off a three-pointer from President followed by Wabash Valley scoring the next six points until a layup by Andrade made it 6-5 Wabash Valley. The ensuing possessions saw each team commit turnovers from steals and each
looking to rebound and attack the other with speed. As each team traded baskets, a three-point play by Willock off an offensive rebound and a second three by President allowed NMJC to lead 17-16 after the first 10 minutes of play.
The Lady T-Birds had another strong second quarter to build up their three-point lead. Wabash Valley got a layup before Mayra Caicedo hit a three and Wynn scored on a put back for a Lady T-Birds 5-0 run and 25-18 lead with 7:44 left on the clock. The following three minutes of play saw each team attack each other off rebounds and steals but neither was able to finish the plays with points.
Wabash Valley went on a small 4-2 run to cut the lead to five, 27-22, with 4:46 left on the clock. After trading baskets NMJC went on a 9-0 run before halftime. Caicedo scored on a free throw and baskets by Brenda Costa, Andrade, Wynn, and Willock saw the Lady T-Birds head into the locker room leading 37-22.
In the third quarter, top-seeded Wabash Valley came out and caught NMJC flat footed. The Lady Warriors hit their second three of the game to trail NMJC 39-25. The Wabash Valley defense began to employ a full court three-player press on the Lady T-Birds resulting in turnovers to cut the lead. With 6:37 left in the third, the Lady T-Birds' lead was cut to nine after a shot from the elbow. The Lady Warriors stole the ball on the following possession and hit another three to cut the lead, 39-33.
A three by President stopped the Lady Warrior run and a wide-open layup by Andrade off a pass by Willock pushed the NMJC lead to nine, 44-35. Wabash Valley ended the third quarter on a 4-0 run, making two difficult shots to go into the fourth trailing 50-48.
It didn't take long for Wabash Valley to even the game, with 7:41 left on the clock the Lady Warriors evened the game off a foul and one. Andrade gave the lead back to New Mexico on a layup, but Wabash Valley responded with a hook in the paint to keep the score even at 54-54 with 4:40 left in the game.
The Lady Warriors scored the next five points with a layup in transition and a three with a NMJC defender in her face to take a 56-54 lead with less than 4 minutes left in the game. President hit a three to bring the Lady T-Birds within two, 59-57, with 3:18 left in the game.
Caicedo tied the game at the free throw line and a pass from Wynn to Willock in the paint gave NMJC a 61-59 lead with 1:30 left in the game.
In the final minute and 30 seconds, NMJC watched Wabash Valley get close to the equalizer, but each shot rattled out. Andrade hit two clutch free throws with four seconds left on the clock to cap a 9-0 run to upset the top seed.
"Girls showed a lot of mental toughness," Saunders said of his players after the win. "Fact that they gave up the big lead and then were able to take it back and win the game."
"Like coach said we lost a little of our intensity," Willock said about the team losing the lead. "I guess we were playing not to lose instead of to win. It was a little frustrating at times but we stayed positive and came up with the W."
Willock added that the communication between the players and Saunders — telling the team they were not going to lose another game after having a big win — gave the team the push it needed to get the win.
NMJC will play in the semifinal against the winner of fifth-seeded Odessa and 13-seed Hutchinson today at 4 p.m. CST in Rip Griffin Center.