LUBBOCK – For the New Mexico Junior College women’s basketball team and its fans, this is the perfect week to begin the National Junior College Athletic Association’s national tournament, what with March Madness going on.
But, just like in the NCAA tournament, the big dance, the NJCAA has its share of March Sadness. And that’s what the 10th-seeded Lady Thunderbirds experienced Wednesday when they dropped their first-round game to 23rd-seeded Jones College, 61-52, at Lubbock Christian University’s Rip Griffin Center.
With that, the Lady T-birds’ season ended at 26-5.
“It was a good year as a whole,” NMJC head coach Austin Mefford said. “Any time you can be ranked nationally in the top 10 most of the year, it was a good year. All you can do is ask to be here at the national tournament, and we earned that opportunity. We had some unfortunate situations with injuries that made it tough, but we fought through the adversity and made it here. Defensively, we played as good as anybody through the course of the year. But offensively, we had a lot of highs and a lot of lows, and unfortunately we were at a low this game.”
Which included shooting 26.8 percent from the field overall, 13.3 percent from three-point range. Jones shot 43.1 percent overall, 29.4 from beyond the arc.
“It just came down to making shots,” Mefford said. “We had 22 offensive rebounds, we gave ourselves that many more chances to shoot the ball, but we just couldn’t make shots. Didn’t execute. We got good looks in a physical game, and they (the refs) let it play physical. But we didn’t make the adjustments to make the shots.”
The Lady Thunderbirds did rally from an early 12-4 hole, closing to within 12-8 by late in the first quarter, and were down 17-12 at quarter’s end. They trailed 19-12 early in the second after a basket by Jones’ Sakyia White, but then embarked on a 13-2 run – including six points from Precious Cowan, four from Sandra Magolico, two from Madina Camara (the go-ahead basket), and one from Mariama Sow (a game-tying free throw) – to surge into a 25-21 lead.
Jones’ Ashlynn Freeman flipped in a shot with two seconds left in the second quarter, narrowing NMJC’s lead to 25-23 by halftime.
After the Lady Thunderbirds couldn’t score on the new half’s opening possession, Olivia Knight drilled a left-elbow trey on the other end, moving Jones into a 26-25 lead. That was the first of five consecutive lead changes, the result of which had Jones up 30-29 following the fifth of those lead changes – coming off a steal and layup by the Lady Bobcats’ Meloney Thames.
The basket by Thames was the start of a 6-0 Jones run that also included field goals from White and Knight, and had the Lady ’Cats up 34-29 with 6:12 to go in the third quarter. Jones remained in the lead through the rest of the period, though the Lady Thunderbirds stayed close. By quarter’s end, Jones was up 41-36.
NMJC, however, opened the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run – including two points each from Cowan, Magolico and Sow, and a point from Miller – that lifted the Lady Thunderbirds into a 45-43 advantage. Sow’s two, on a pair of free throws, put NMJC into that lead with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.
But that proved to be the Lady T-birds’ final lead of the game. Nakyah Jones tied the score at 45 with an inside basket, and Thames drove the baseline for a one-handed shot that put the Lady Bobcats ahead by two.
A Sow jumper brought NMJC within 48-47, but a three-point play completed at the line by Thames stretched Jones’ lead to four, and a Thames layup on the Lady Bobcats’ next possession made it a 53-47 game.
Delma Zita buried a right-arc trey to bring the Lady Thunderbirds within 53-50, but they would get no closer, as Jones reeled off eight straight points – with six coming from White, the other two from Thames – to build a 61-50 lead with 58.9 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Lady T-birds were almost out of time. And just under a minute later, time was up on their season.
“We’ve got to look back on this one and try to figure out how to fix things, look at what we did,” Mefford said. “We even talked about it in there (the locker room), people that are coming back next year, they’ve got to get some shots up because we’ve got to get where we can make shots. That was the bottom line tonight.”