For the third time this season, the New Mexico Junior College women’s basketball team has beaten an undefeated team ranked in the top 5. Earlier this year the Lady Thunderbirds beat No. 3 Trinity Valley and No. 4 Northwest Florida State on back-to-back nights. Thursday, the Lady T-Birds knocked off No. 1 ranked South Plains College, winning 67-62 in Caster Activity Center.
“We also beat Hutchinson, but they might have been No. (7) we , were – feated too,” NMJC coach Drew Sanders said. “That is four top 10 teams. I am hoping this will give us another chance at an At Large bid (for the NJCAA National Tournament) if we finish the season strong and play the remainder of our games like we did tonight and go into the regional strong.”
The win over South Plains College was the second straight year, NMJC beat the top team in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference at home.
“It was a good win. A really, really big win,” Sanders said. “Of course it is just another conference win, but to win against a team of that magnitude, especially with us struggling the last two weeks, hopefully this has us back on the right track.”
South Plains, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, started off with an early lead as the Lady Texans were up 7-2. However, the Lady T-Birds didn’t let the early deficit affect them and responded with an 11-4 run to take a 13-11 lead.
The lead didn’t last though as NMJC was once again trailing, this time 19-16, at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady T-Birds kicked their offense, and defense, into high gear in the second quarter as NMJC outscored South Plains College 18-11 to take a 34-30 lead into the break.
Amaya Lewis, a 2018 Hobbs High School graduate, and Eliana Cabral led the Lady T-Birds in scoring in the first half. Cabral had eight points while Lewis had seven.
The one area that the Lady T-Birds had problems in was rebounds. NMJC managed to grab just 12 boards in the first half while South Plains had
18. For the game, NMJC had 26 rebounds to South Plains’ 35.
“I thought we rebounded exceptionally well for the mismatch,” Sanders said. “We also forced 27 turnovers and that was probably the difference in the game.”
New Mexico Junior College continued to dominate its home court in the third quarter as the Lady T-Birds outscored the Lady Texans 13-11. At one point, NMJC led by as many as 11 points, 47-36, before going into the final 10 minutes of play with a 47-41 lead.
But while everything went right in the third quarter for the Lady T-Birds, it was the exact opposite in the fourth quarter. South Plains climbed back into the game and at one point, cut the Lady T-Birds lead down to just one point, 61-60. But the Lady T-Birds didn’t waver and never lost the lead.
“We broke down on defense and gave them two wide open threes,” Sanders said. “They were on back-to-back possessions and that is six quick points, making a nine-point lead just three. Then we made a couple of bad decisions when we were supposed to be milking the clock and went too early.”
The Lady T-Birds final eight points came from the charity stripe over the final 34 seconds of play. During that time, South Plains College managed just two layups. Overall, NMJC was 19-of-25 from the line while South Plains was just 5-of-8.
“Free throws are always big, but that is what (South Plains) had to resort to because of us having the lead and they ran out of timeouts,” Sanders said. “Defensively we played really, really well, especially when we were giving up that much size.”
Cabral (17 points) and Lewis (16 points) both finished the game with double figure scoring, as did Dawnyel Lair, who chipped in 10 points off the bench. Mayra Caicedo finished with nine points while Selina Dockery had six and Ebony Horton chipped in five. Brenda Costa and Tania’ Mir each had a bucket for NMJC.
Leis led the Lady T-Birds with eight rebounds. The former Lady Eagle also had two assists and two steals.
“(Lewis) D’d up 14 (South Plains’ Sarah Shematsi) and I don’t know what 14 ended up with, but I don’t know if she got her average,” Sanders said. “She is an LSU signee and Amaya D’d her up and did a really, really good job on her.”
With the win, NMJC improves to 17-7 on the season and 8-3 in Western Junior College Athletic Conference play. The win puts the Lady T-Birds in third place in the conference, one game ahead of Midland in the win column. As for South Plains, the Lady Texans are still leading the WJCAC at 10-1, but fall to 26-1 overall. The Lady T-Birds will now prepare for a road trip to Clarendon College (0-10 WJCAC, 13-13) on Monday followed by a trip to Frank Phillips College (3-9, 11-15) on Thursday.
“We need to take care of those two road games next week,” Sanders said. “Then we come back and face another ranked team in Midland.”