LUBBOCK, TEXAS- The #17 Florida SouthWestern State Buccaneers went on a wild ride in their first NJCAA National Tournament game in program history on Monday, starting hot and going up by as many as 19 before seeing that lead evaporate and the game eventually go to overtime where they came out on top of a 78-75 decision over #16 Cochise to advance to the second round of the tournament on Tuesday.
It didn't look like there were any nerves early for the Bucs who were in Lubbock for the National Tournament for the first time. FSW jumped out to a 9-2 lead three minutes into things behind a big start from Tina Stephens who had seven points right off the bat for the Bucs. Another bucket from Stephens late in the quarter stretched the FSW lead to double digits at 19-8 and at the end of one, the Bucs looked in control, leading 25-12.
FSW shot 64% in the quarter while holding Cochise to just five first quarter field goals and 22% shooting. Stephens outscored the Apaches by herself in the period 15-12 with a 4 for 5 start from the field and a perfect 7 for 7 from the free throw line.
The Bucs took their largest lead of the game 2:30 into the second quarter as Shondell Vickers connected on a short jumper to give them a 33-14 advantage. FSW couldn't keep their momentum into the half though as Cochise outscored the Bucs 12-5 over the final 7:30 of the half, cutting the FSW lead back down to a dozen at the break at 38-26.
FSW slowed down considerably in the second quarter, shooting just 30% and going 1 for 7 from the three point line to finish the half at 44% from the field and just 11% from deep.
The Bucs struggles continued as the second half began as Cochise scored the first five of the third quarter to trim the FSW lead back to just seven at 38-31. That's when freshman Nairimar Vargas-Reyes stepped up for the Bucs, drilling back to back threes, the second a four point play as she was fouled on the play to push the FSW lead back to 16 in the blink of an eye. A pair of free throws from Stephens stretched the lead all the way back to 18 as it looked like the Bucs had righted the ship with 14:11 remaining in the contest. That was not the case. Cochise roared back to score the next nine points, holding the Bucs without a point for over three minutes, cutting the lead in half, back to nine with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter. Shekinah Guthrie got a bucket for the Bucs before the end of the quarter to stop the Apaches run to give FSW a 53-42 lead at the end of three.
After putting up 25 points in the first quarter, the Bucs managed just 28 in the second and third combined, again struggling on offense to shoot just 28% with five field goals in the third.
The Bucs got the first points of the fourth as Stephens scored to push the lead to 13, but Cochise scored the next 10 in a span of just 3:14 to get back to within one possession at 55-52 with 7:37 to go. A free throw from Shondell Vickers with 4:42 remaining pushed the Bucs lead back to four, but they went scoreless over the next 2:20 as Cochise came back to tie the game at 58 with 2:30 remaining. The teams went back and forth over the next 1:30 with the game staying tied into the final minute of regulation. FSW had a chance to win it as time expired, but the game winning attempt rattled off the rim and sent the game to overtime tied at 62.
FSW scored the first points of the extra period as Stephens continued her career game with a bucket, but Cochise answered with a three, giving the Apaches their first lead of the game 33 seconds into overtime. Cochise took their largest lead of the game at four at the midway point of the extra period as the Bucs continued to struggle to put together a sustained run on the offensive end of the floor. Enter Nairimar Vargas-Reyes once again. After breaking the Bucs out of a slump in the third quarter, she came up big again, banging a deep three to get FSW back to within one at 70-69 with 2:02 remaining. Another freshman stepped up after that as Simone Lett hit her only shot of the game with 1:45 to go, giving FSW the lead back at 71-70. A pair of free throws from Vargas-Reyes and another by Stephens grew the Bucs lead to five in the closing moments. A three from the Apaches gave Cochise some life and they had a desperation three chance at the buzzer to tie it, but the Bucs picked up their biggest stop of the night and finished off a 78-75 win for their first National Tournament win in program history.
The Bucs shot 63% in the extra period to finish the game at 36% while Cochise also shot 36% on the other end of the floor. Stephens finished a monster game with 34 points and a career high 15 rebounds while also picking up four steals and three blocks in the win. Vargas-Reyes had 15 points, 13 in the second half, and nine rebounds for FSW.
The Bucs improve to 30-3 on the year with the win while Cochise sees their season come to an end at 28-4.
FSW advances to the Sweet Sixteen round of the tournament where they will take on #1 Wabash Valley on Tuesday at 3 PM (EST).