Southern late rally falls short as Hornets repeat
HOUSTON — Southern found itself in a 16-point hole early in the second half of the Toyota Southwestern Athletic Tournament championship game Saturday against Alabama State.
The Jaguars battled back in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to two points with 66 seconds left in regulation, but were unable to complete the rally. The Lady Hornets (19-11) held off the Jags for a 55-51 win, denying Southern its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2010 while advancing to the Big Dance for the second-straight year.
The Jaguars (19-11) will receive a Women’s National Invitational Tournament by virtue of sharing the regular season championship with the Lady Hornets.
“I thought the kids had a lot of character and toughness in fighting to come back,” Southern head coach Sandy Pugh said. “Anytime you are down 16 in the second half, and you have the basketball down two with a chance to go ahead or potentially tie the game … we had that opportunity. It didn’t happen.”
Briana Green led Southern with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists. Cortnei Purnell, from nearby Pearland, Texas, added 11 points and seven rebounds.
Britney Wright led the Lady Hornets with a double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points and pulling down a game-high 11 rebounds. Daniele Ewert chipped in with 12 points.
“Everybody knows Southern is a great team,” ASU head coach Freda Freeman-Jackson said. “I knew they were going to make a run.”
A baseline jumper by Purnell cut the Lady Hornets lead to 46-42 with 8:36 remaining in regulation. Alabama State responded by scoring seven unanswered points over the next three minutes of play. A pair of free throws by Elisiah Jones increased ASU’s lead to 53-42 with 5:31 left to play.
“Sometimes when it gets in the heat of the moment and a team is making a run like that, it’s easy for everyone to start going back and forth or just losing their heads,” said Wright, the tournament’s most valuable player. “Our main focus was to stay together and get back to what we were doing.”
Southern launched another rally to cut the lead down to single digits. The Jaguars held Alabama State scoreless for four minutes down the stretch while scoring nine unanswered. Green drove to the basket, and made the shot while getting fouled by Jasmine Peeples with 1:06 remaining. Green missed the and-one, but the bucket closed the gap to 53-51.
The Jaguars had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but could not convert their final shot attempts — including an attempt by Green with 31 seconds left.
“It just didn’t fall. I got to the spot where I’d normally get,” Green said. “I normally execute. I normally put the ball in the hole. It just wasn’t going my way at that point in time.”
Alabama State opened the third quarter with a 35-22 lead. Wright knocked down a three-pointer at the 9:32 mark to give the Lady Hornets a 38-22 lead, one of the two times in the third Alabama State led the Jaguars by as many as 16 points.
“Kind of built ourselves quite a hole. Poor execution on the offensive end,” Pugh said. “Came out in the second half, we were down I think 13. Came back out and gave up a three-ball. That was huge.”
The Jaguars whittled the lead down to single digits late in the third quarter. Britney Washington nailed a three with 2:28 left in the third to cut the lead to 44-34, and Purnell converted an old-school three-point play at the 2:04 mark to close the gap to 44-37. Green scored the final Southern points of the quarter, closing the margin to 46-40 heading into the fourth.
“We were in panic mode at the same time, but I had to remind them you have to defend,” Freeman-Jackson said. “You have to get stops, and that will take care of all. We were able to get a stop when they cut it to two or three.”