The Midwestern State Mustangs valiantly fought back top within one possession but eventually fell to the West Texas A&M Lady Buffs, 73-70, in the Lone Star Conference Tournament final on Satu
rday afternoon in Allen, Texas.
MSU head coach Noel Johnson and the Mustangs now await the announcement of the eight teams selected to advance to the NCAA Division II national tournament. The top eight teams in the region move on to the field of 64, and as of the last rankings the MSU Mustangs were No. 4.
West Texas A&M, the top ranked team in the region, is widely assumed to retain their No. 1 status and host the South Central regional in Canyon, Texas. The announcement of the eight teams will be made on Sunday, March 8.
The Mustangs opened the game looking nervous and reserved, missing on their first 4 shot attempts. The drought to open the game allowed West Texas to jump out to a 9-2 advantage with 16:22 to play in the first half.
MSU settled down and countered the fast Lady Buff start by going on an 8-0 run over the next 3 minutes to tie the game at 10. WTAMU quickly answered with another run, leaping to a 21-12 lead with 7 minutes to play in the first. The 9 point lead would be the Lady Buffs' largest of the first frame.
Noel Johnson looked to the bench for a spark in the final 7 minutes of the half and she found Destiny Means. Means quickly tallied a steal and jumper to ignite the Mustangs. Add in a basket from Andrea Carter and 5 straight points from Lisa Hampton and the Mustangs found themselves in another tie with WT, 21-21, with less than 5 minutes to play in the half.
The Lady Buffs again regained a lead, but the Mustangs cut that to two on a Taylor Dowd layup just before the halftime horn. West Texas led 30-28 at the break. Lisa Hampton went into the break leading all scorers with 10 points.
"Our bench was huge today," said Noel Johnson. "We really leaned on them early and they stepped up with great defensive play and a lot of hustle."
The Mustangs quickly snatched the momentum from WTAMU after halftime, tying the game at 30-all just 90 seconds into the second half. Dianna Jones and Shambreka Jones combined for the quick four points.
Once tied, the MSU starters got to work. A triple by Lisa Hampton and driving layups by Dianna Jones and Andrea Carter helped to build a 5 point Mustangs lead. Shambreka Jones went rebound crazy in the second half, grabbing 6 rebounds and scoring 12 points.
After getting the 5 point lead with 14:28 to play, the Mustangs went cold. MSU shot just 1-of-6 from the floor and turned the ball over 6 times over an eight and a half minute span. Good MSU defense only allowed West Texas to claim a 9 point lead during that drought, 57-48, with 5:20 left in the game.
Midwestern State would claw back to within two at 70-68 with 20 seconds remaining. After a free throw by WT's Sasha Watson, the Mustangs found Lisa Hampton in the corner for a 3-point attempt. The shot went long but Dianna Jones was there for the quick putback basket to make the score 71-70 WT with 1.7 seconds remaining. The Mustangs attempted to make a full court pass following a pair of WT free throws but threw the ball out of bounds.
The Mustangs saw all five starters score in double digits, led by Andrea Carter with 17 points. AC also led MSU with 10 rebounds in the game.
"We struggled when WT switched defenses on us in the second half," said Johnson. "We should've gotten to the free throw line more." The Mustangs went 19-23 from the charity stripe for the game while WTAMU went 36 times, making 26.
When asked how the Mustangs were able to stay in this game senior Andrea Carter said, "Defense is what MSU is. We concentrate on defense each time we hit the floor." MSU forced 23 WT turnovers and converted those into 25 points for the game.