#TCCBasketball: Eagles advance to national title game

Mari Hill
Joe Morales / Rapid Shotz Photography

LUBBOCK, Texas (March 23, 2018) - Tallahassee Community College will play for the women's basketball national championship on Saturday evening in Lubbock, Texas.  

The 11th-seed Eagles (28-6) advanced to the championship final with a 78-68 victory over two-time defending national champion and No. 2 seed Gulf Coast State College in Friday's second national semifinal at the NJCAA Division I Women's Basketball Championship.  

This marks the first championship game appearance in school history for the Eagles. Saturday's opponent, eight-time national champion Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, will be making its third straight appearance in the title game. 

Friday's game took a detour early on when Gulf Coast State's leading scorer Shayla Bennett left the game around the 6:00 mark of the first quarter with an injury and did not return. In her absence, Janesha Green delivered a 38-point effort and almost single-handedly carried the Commodores to the final. 

She scored 10 points in the first 2:15 of the fourth quarter and Gulf Coast State led 63-55. 

In each of its first three wins in Lubbock, Tallahassee trailed in the second half, and each time the Eagles found a way to survive and advance. Once again, Tallahassee closed strong in the fourth quarter, ending the game on a 23-5 run over the final 7:33. 

The Eagles seized momentum quickly, scoring, 11 unanswered points in a span of two minutes. Mari Hill's third three-pointer of the second half gave Tallahassee a 64-63 lead, and Nakiah Black followed with a layup to extend the lead to three (66-63). 

Green ended a scoring drought of more than three minutes, knocking down a three-pointer to tie the game with 4:34 remaining. She followed with a tough bank shot in traffic to give Gulf Coast State its final lead, 68-66 – and final points – of the game. 

Gulf Coast State missed its final four field goal attempts. Combined with four turnovers, the result was a 12-0 run by Tallahassee to end the game. 

Juliunn Redmond started things with a jumper to force a 68-68 tie, the 15th of the game, with 3:08 left. The last of 12 lead changes followed as Japonica James scored the next five points, and when Jamyra McChristine scored and completed the old-fashioned three-point play with 1:41 left, the Eagles could smell the victory. 

Saturday was just the tenth win all-time for Tallahassee against Gulf Coast State (10-62), who swept the three regular season games, and the first in four postseason meetings. The Commodores beat the Eagles in the FCSAA State Championship Game in 1999, 2000 and 2010. 

Tallahassee had another difficult night finding its shooting touch. The Eagles were just 7-of-26 in the first quarter and 8-of-20 in the second, almost doubling up the Commodores in shot attempts through 20 minutes. Tallahassee ended up with 26 more shot attempts for the game, which prompted a 21-10 advantage on the offensive glass and a 23-14 advantage in second chance points for the Eagles. 

Still, the Eagles trailed by just one, 16-15, after the first quarter and the game went to the half tied at 33. 

James scored a team-high 25 points for Tallahassee and pulled down 12 rebounds. McChristine added her second double-double of the tournament, 11 points and 11 rebounds. Black scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half. 

Hill, who Tallahassee head coach Franqua "Q" Bedell said was the MVP of Friday's win, also scored 14 points to give Tallahassee four players in double-figures. Entering Friday's game, she had scored just three points in the tournament and 15 total points this postseason. 

Saturday's game will be streamed on NJCAA TV on a pay-per-view basis. Individual games are $4.99 while a tournament pass can be purchased for $12.99. 

NJCAA TV is available online at NJCAATV.com as well as through Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV.