EDUARDO MIRANDA - NEWS-SUN
March 24, 2019
NMJC Sydnee Wynn goes for a layup down the lane in the T-Birds' 68-62 loss to Gulf Coast State in the NJCAA championship game in Rip Griffin Center Saturday morning.
LUBBOCK – The clock struck midnight on the Lady T-Birds.
The eighth-seeded New Mexico Junior College Lady Thunderbirds Basketball saw their Cinderella run through the NJCAA national tournament in Lubbock come to an end Saturday morning with a 68-62 loss to the second-seeded Gulf Coast State Lady Commodores in the Rip Griffin Center on the Lubbock Christian University campus.
NMJC (29-6) was led by Eternati Willock who finished with a double double, 22 points and 16 rebounds. Sydnee Wynn had 14 points and five boards in the loss. Jurnee President finished with nine points and Myra Caicedo had five assists. Willock and Wynee were both named to the all tournament team.
"That's super," Saunders said on Wynn and Willock being named to the all tournament team. "They both had great tournaments and both deserve that. I was really proud of them and the whole team."
With a scored tied 3-3 early on, NMJC was caught off guard by an 18-1 Gulf Coast State run, taking a 21-4 lead. During the run the Lady T-Birds made multiple turnovers and scored their only point at the charity stripe through Willock. With 1:43 left in the first Amaya Lewis, the former Lady Eagle missed a fade away jump shot but got the steal and made the pass to Willock under the basket.
"They came out and hit us right off the bat," NMJC head coach Drew Saunders said. "They hit a bunch of threes and our kids played quite tight and intimated early. We got behind and our kids got out of sync and from that point on we never could get it under 10 until late. We didn't hit free throws again and it could help us stay close early. We missed a bunch of easy ones early, but you have to give them (Gulf Coast) credit they knocked down a bunch of shots and some were contested."
The rotation and switching of the NMJC defense was slow in allowing Gulf Coast to get wide-open looks on the perimeter, where it did most the damage. Gulf Coast made some difficult shots from the perimeter, with a minute left in the first quarter Bryana Langford closed ou
on her shooter but it made no difference as the shot went in. On the ensuing possession Langford hit a three in the final seconds as the Lady T-Birds closed the gap to 26-11.
NMJC tried to play an up tempo game in the second quarter but mistakes gave the ball back to the Lady Commodores. NMJC could not cut into Gulf Coast's 15-point lead. At the 3:37 mark, Wynn and two Gulf Coast defenders were caught in a scuffle for the ball resulting in all three players hitting the ground. While on the ground Gulf Coast's Alex-us Dye, the tournament MVP, threw a kick at Wynn's head, resulting her being hit with an unsportsmanlike foul. The call was made after a three-minute review by the officials, who then relayed their decision to the coaches. The Lady T-Birds were given two free throws and the ball which resulted in back-to-back appearances at the free-throw line for Lewis and President, who both went 1-for-1, cutting Gulf Coast's lead to 36-25.
The second half the Lady T-Birds tried to limit the Lady Commodores three-point shooting and rebounding. NMJC held Gulf Coast to 2-for-11 from behind the arc, but the two treys came in crucial moments to stop a Lady T-Birds run. While NMJC's played better as a group, it could never cut Gulf Coast's double-digit lead until the 3:23 mark in the fourth quarter. They Lady T-Birds fought back by going to their strength, their inside out game with Willock and Wynn. The man-to-man defense of the Lady T-Birds forced Gulf Coast into turnovers or shot attempts late in the shot clock. Caicedo was able to use the turnovers into layups or assists to Willock or Wynn under the basket.
Back to back buckets got NMJC to 60-52, bringing the NMJC fans to their feet. The momentum didn't last long as Gulf Coast responded with a back door cut for a layup and an easy layup in transition, pushing the lead to 64-53.
The Lady T-Birds fought back with two baskets from Willock in the paint to trail 64-57 with 28 seconds left. Gulf Coast then scored on a layup and Wynn responded with he second three pointer of the game, cutting the lead to 66-60. But Gulf Coast's success at the free-throw line in the game's final minutes was too much for NMJC to overcome.
For the game, NMJC shot 37 percent (23 for 62) from the field and 42 percent (5 for 12) from the three-point line. At the free-throw line the Lady T-Birds were 11 for 22 and committed 17 turnovers, which the lady Commodores turned into 21 points. New Mexico was out-rebounded 44-38, giving up 14 offensive rebounds. The Lady T-Birds won the paint battle outscoring Gulf Coast 34-22.
Saunders did look toward the future and believes the experience will help not only the returning players but will also help the program to continue to grow.
"We have been to multiple national tournaments," Saunders said. "This shows people that we can do damage when we get here. This will make it easier to get the next big player and the young players that return will remember what its like next year. And the intensity and atmosphere wont bother them like it did today."