SANBORN - After trailing the Mercyhurst North East Lady Saints by nine points at halftime, the Jamestown Community College Jayhawks battled back in the second half of the NJCAA Region 3 Division II Women's Basketball Tournament on Sunday at Niagara County CC.
With 4:30 left to play, JCC took its first lead since early in the game on a short jumper by Taylor Storer. With 1:55 left, the Jayhawks were trailing by only one point, again thanks to a basket by Storer.
But from that point, Mercyhurst North East outscored the Jayhawks, 10-4, with the last five points from the free-throw line, to nail down a 66-59 victory.
Above, Lacey Clark of Jamestown Community College hangs onto the ball while Sabrina Montgomery of Mercyhurst North East reaches in from behind during Sunday’s NJCAA Region 3 Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament championship game at Niagara County CC. Below, JCC coach George Sisson makes a point to his team during a timeout. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photos by Jim Riggs
''We had our opportunities,'' JCC coach George Sisson said about the finish. ''We had a couple sets and had decent looks that didn't go down and we missed a couple of foul shots. All of sudden that one-point game turned into a five-point game.''
It is the Lady Saints' (19-10) second Region 3 Division II title, with the first coming at JCC in 2006. And with the title, MNE advances to the NJCAA Division II National Women's Basketball Tournament at Johnson County CC in Overland Park, Kan., March 18-22.
For the Jayhawks (19-8), it is the sixth time they have lost the Region 3 Division II title game. The lone win was in 2010 under former coach Keith Martin.
Not only did the Lady Saints end JCC's postseason with a loss, but they had also ended the Jayhawks' regular season with a defeat at JCC eight days earlier. When asked if that win at JCC was a major stepping stone, Mercyhurst North East coach Chenara Wilson said, ''It helped our momentum to actually have the confidence to come out and beat them today.''
And adding to the confidence for MNE, which was the No, 4 seed and had to win a first-round game to make the final four, was an upset semifinal victory on Saturday over host and No. 1 seed Niagara County.
''It was going to be tough no matter who we played this weekend,'' Wilson said. ''Our team played well and that's all you could ask for.''
The Lady Saints jumped out to a 5-0 lead on Sunday and it could have been larger as JCC committed back-to-back turnovers, but MNE couldn't turn them into points.
The Jayhawks responded with seven straight points, starting with a 3-pointer by Lacey Clark, to take a 7-5 lead after five minutes of play.
Then the game seesawed for the next minutes.
Mercyhurst North East was in front by a point, 18-17, when the tables turned.
The Lady Saints went on a 14-2 run, which included three 3-pointers by Brea Forney, to take a 32-19 lead with 3:50 left in the half.
Elle Reed came through with six points for JCC in the final three minutes to pull the Jayhawks within nine, 36-27, at halftime.
The Lady Saints team the Jayhawks saw in the first half wasn't the one they saw on Saturday.
''That team was 0-for-7 yesterday from 3 and they hit seven 3s against us in the first half today,'' Sisson said.
The final stats showed the Lady Saints hitting 9-of-18 from 3 while JCC was 3-of-16.
Foul trouble also hurt JCC in the opening 20 minutes as Akiah Luceus had three while Elle Reed had two.
''If she (Luceus) doesn't pick up her third, she helps us get a run at the end of the first half,'' Sisson said.
Mercyhurst North East also had foul concerns as eventual tournament most valuable player Forney, who finished the half with 14 points, had three and two more teammates had a pair.
The nine-point lead didn't feel comfortable to Wilson.
''No matter what the lead was, we knew we to fight,'' she said. ''Jamestown is a very good team and they're going to fight us to the end, so we knew that lead meant nothing.''
As for JCC coming into the second half, Storer said, ''We had to step it up and match their energy and more.''
And the Jayhawks did as they outscored MNE 15-7 in the opening six minutes to pull within one, 43-42, on a 3-pointer by Reed. But less than a minute later, she picked up her third foul and was held scoreless the rest of the way.
The Jayhawks went into a zone defense that stymied the Lady Saints, who often didn't get a shot off until just before the shot clock sounded.
''My team doesn't like to take a lot of shots,'' Wilson said. ''They're like the perfect shot is the shot to take, so they're not eager to shoot.''
Luceus picked up her fourth foul with 11:08 left when MNE had moved in front by six and she headed to the bench. Shawna Miller replaced her and ran off five straight points to get JCC back in the game.
''(Amy) Sands, Corri (Hannon) and Miller all came in and were productive for me,'' Sisson said. ''They were on the floor when we made that push.''
With five minutes left, Brook Draggett, Clark and Luceus returned to the game for JCC, but it was the Jayhawks' shortest player, 5-foot-2 Storer, who tried to stand tall. She hit back-to-back jumpers to put JCC in front, 53-51, with 4:30 left to play and it was the Jayhawks' first lead since seven minutes into the game.
The Lady Saints answered with a 3-pointer by Jalin Steel.
Later with MNE in front by three, Storer popped in another short jumped to pull JCC within one with 1:55 left.
''I'm a captain and I've got to do what I'm expected and I've got to come through for them,'' Storer said. ''My mindset was get the bucket no matter who's scoring, but my teammates looked to me and that put the ball in may hands.''
Again when its lead was down to one, Mercyhurst North East answered with a 3, this time by Forney, her fifth of the game. Then she hit a two-pointer to extend the Lady Saints' lead to six with 55 seconds left to play.
But again Storer kept JCC alive with a short jumper with 38 seconds left to cut the margin to four.
''I was really proud of the way she played this weekend,'' Sisson said about Storer, who finished with a game-high 20 points and seven assists and was named tot he all-tournament team. ''She was way more in control and prepared to handle that (pressure) as compared to on the road at Erie and Mercyhurst at home. She's a true competitor.''
After Storer cut the margin to four, Mercyhurst North East locked up the win by shooting 5-of-6 from the foul line in the final 34 seconds.
''We've struggled from the foul line all year,'' Wilson said. ''We emphasize that every day in practice because that's what it's going to come to. I just had the confidence they would make them and they made them.''
Forney led MNE with 19 points while Steel had 14 and was named tot he all-tournament team.
After Storer's 20 points, Reed had 13 and Luceus 10 for JCC.
''My sophomores really represent Jamestown Community College, the family, the basketball team, the school, really, really well,'' Sisson said about Storer, Draggett, Sands and Kaylee Sheldon. ''The freshmen have a high level to live up to.''
He added, ''I wish I could have got them seven more points somewhere today.''
MERCYHURST NORTH EAST (66)
Dulin 0 0-0 0, Forney 7 0-0 19, Sampson 1 1-2 3, Schaef 1 0-0- 2, Russell 2 2-2 6, Fullove 0 1-2 1, Steel 4 2-5 14, Montgomery 1 0-0 2, LMiller 2 0-0 4, Gamble 2 3-5 7, Hudson 3 2-3 8, Totals 23 11-19 66.
Storer 8 4-4 20, Reed 5 1-3 13, SMiller 1 3-3 5, Clark 2 2-2 7, Sands 0 0-0 0, Draggett 2 0-0 4, Luceus 5 0-4 10, Hannon 0 0-0 0, Totals 23 10-16 59.
Halftime-Mercyhurst North East 36, JCC 27. 3-point goals-Forney 5, Steel 5, Reed 2, Clark. Total fouls-Mercyhurst North East 17, JCC 18.