Langston Hits Escape Button in RRAC Classic
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Critical misses cost Purple Pride, 58-53

Momentum Shifted on a Blatantly Missed Call

CATS' CATALYST: Senior guard Heather Jefferson was on the frontlines from start to finish against Langston. Photo by Little Joe Valdez.WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The top two teams in the Red River Athletic Conference over the past three seasons met on Friday in the tournament semi-finals that was an instant classic. The outcome wasn't determined until the final minute. The Lady Lions prevailed.

Unfortunately for the women's college basketball team at Southwestern Assemblies of God University, their opponent, Langston University, shares the same mascot. Langston had won a thrilling, 58-53 decision to advance to the conference championship game.

Langston, the 5-time defending Red River champions, overcame an 11-point second half deficit to beat SAGU just two weeks after routing them, 76-36, in Oklahoma. Southwestern has been a thorn in the side of LU in recent seasons. The reason; their zone defense. It nearly did them in again.

"They are always difficult for us," said a relieved Head Coach, Jerome Willis, of Langston's nemesis. "This place is a hard win for us. Their zone was as quick and as active as I have seen it all season. Once again, we escaped with a win."

His previous two regular season meetings inside the Sheaffer Center saw Langston edge SAGU at the wire by six points or less, not including Friday's matinee. Southwestern has split with them the past two years. When SAGU routed them in Langston last year, they became the only team in the RRAC to defeated them in Oklahoma in five years.

The two teams have a mutual respect for one another and the rivalry has seen some great games - all exemplified by super sportsmanship.

When Momentum Changed Colors

BIRD'S THE WORD:  Hawk vs Raven. Stephanie Hawkins is guarded by Reyven Osborne (left) during the semi-final clash between SAGU and Langston. Joe Valdez photo.A near tangible moment happened in the second half that impacted both teams. Langston was trailing by six (34-28) when the host-Lions set up a play on offense, still controlling the lead and the pace of the game.

The shot clock was winding down when an extra pass found Jirah Rodriguez (Georgetown, Tx / Georgetown HS) open from 10 feet away. The freshman forward with a soft, shooter's touch, clearly got the shot off in time, which kissed the glass and was banking into the net when the horn sounded and the red-lights flashed around the backboard. Even though the ball had already hit the glass when the horn sounded, an official nullified the basket, much to the disagreement to a largely pro-SAGU crowd.

The unusually late call on a shot that wasn't in question, affected the ebb and flo of "Old man Mo."

Fueled by that blessing of fate, Langston surged ahead. They immediately converted a three-point play, then drained consecutive Fisher three-balls to take the lead. That's what good teams do.

Game Overview

The Purple Pride led for the majority of the game, 27:37 to be exact. They did so thanks to a defensive strategy that other teams in the RRAC are now using against No. 15 ranked Langston. SAGU limited the visitors to 23% shooting while forcing 17 turnovers in building a 30-21 halftime lead.

The Big Orange made adjustments in the locker room and recovered to take their first lead, 38-36, with 12:36 left in the game. They did it by shooting over it (the zone). Junior Shantoya Fisher made 4-of-6 three-pointers and Ashlea Gray hit 1-of-3 tries in the second half after LU could muster only 1-of-10 in the first twenty minutes.

Both squads increased their defensive intensity as the game developed. After Chelsea Jones (San Antonio, Tx / Cornerstone Christian) swished a pair of free throws that gave SAGU the lead, 41-40 (8:35 to play), Langston ratcheted up their D down the stretch. They would need it.

Coach Arlon Beadles' unit, focused on winning this game to have a chance to return to the NAIA playoffs for a second straight year, executed their passing game offense. Heather Jefferson (Conroe, Tx / Conroe HS), one of four key seniors playing for the final time at home, kept the Lions in the game with big shots from the foul line and from beyond the arc.

What proved costly for the hosts was four missed, open layups on plays that beat Langston's defense with 7:55, 4:56, 3:03 and 2:53 remaining. In the final 8:35, Southwestern made just 3-of-12 shots (which included the blown layups) as well as two turnovers. Still, they remained in the game.

Key Play almost Knots the Score

With a raucous crowd cheering their every move, the Purple Cats appeared on the brink of the tying the game when, with 1:12 to go, Jones stole the ball from Gray. She zipped an alert pass to senior guard Stephanie Hawkins (DeSoto, Tx / DeSoto HS), who cut inside around a high post screen. She slashed through the heart of the defense for a layup, was fouled and stepped to the line with 1:06 to go. Her "and one" free throw went halfway down and rimmed out, leaving Langston with a precarious 54-53 lead.

The defending champs then did some executing of their own. Going for the jugular, Gray tried a three-ball from the side pocket. No good. But senior Sharnelia Johnson grabbed the offensive rebound. She kicked the ball out to Fisher, who gunned a jump shot. No good. Gray snatched the board. The two offensive rebounds devoured precious time from the clock and kept Langston in control.

Jaimee Harry, a cat-quick, diminutive guard who had a solid floor game, darted inside and drew a foul. She converted two clutch free throws for a three point lead with 0:29 to go. Southwestern needed a triple, and tried three of them in the closing seconds against an extended Langston defense. None ripped the nets. Finally, Langston salted away the win when Gray sank two foul shots with a second to play.

The win improved the visitors' season mark to 27-5, pitting them against Texas Wesleyan University, 28-4, in the RRAC championship game.

Player Totals

Southwestern was led in scoring by both Jefferson and Jones, with 14 points apiece. Hawkins added 12 and Rodriguez seven. Hawkins and Jones had four steals each, while Hankins and Jefferson had three thefts.

Langston's Stephanie Madden, perhaps the league's most dominating player, had 14 points and 13 rebounds. The 6'1 senior was a handful for Gabby Bruner (Peaster, Tx / Peaster HS) and Hankins. She had scored 22 and 21 points in their first two meetings.

Fisher, a wiry 5'11 forward, was huge on Friday, hitting five treys on her way to scoring 17. She combined to produce just 11 points against SAGU this season. Her output helped offset Gray netting just nine. The talented senior guard had averaged 18ppg against Team Purp.

Key Team Stats

In the end, Langston's control of the boards was their main advantage. They held a significant 46-28 edge, including a substantial 20-8 mastery on the offensive glass. SAGU held a 36% to 32% margin in shooting, while both teams stroked 16-of-20 on the foul line. SAGU forced 26 turnovers, which they turned into 25 points. Langston squeezed 21 giveaways, parlaying them into 15.

First half Notes

SAGU vaulted to an 8-0 lead on 3-balls from Jefferson and Rodriguez. Rachel Harris (Joshua, Tx / Bethesda Christian) assisted a Jones layup for a 12-4 advantage at the 10:59 mark. Rodriguez assisted a fastbreak Jefferson deuce to maintain the upper-hand, 18-15.

Jones FT's and a layup after a Jefferson assist pushed the lead to 24-15. LU sliced the deficit to 24-21 (1:30) before Southwestern finished on a 6-0 run for a 30-21 halftime margin. Harris popped a pair from the foul line, then assisted a Jones layup. Reyven Osborne turned the ball over and SAGU made it count when Hawkins hit Rodriguez for an easy lay-in with 0:19 left.

Southwestern Heads to OKC

The Lady Lions will compete in the Central Regional tournament on Friday and Saturday, March 11-12 in Oklahoma City. Should they win twice they would be headed for the *NCCAA nationals in Indiana the following weekend.

*National Christian College Athletic Association

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