LUBBOCK, TEXAS- In nearly a mirror opposite of their first game at the NJCAA National Tournament, the #17 Florida SouthWestern State Buccaneers' furious late game comeback fell just short Tuesday afternoon against #1 Wabash Valley, as a last second shot missed its mark and the Bucs lost 81-78 to see their season commence with a 9th place finish in their first trip to the Big Dance.
Nairimar Vargas-Reyes kept the Bucs afloat early on with a pair of threes in the opening moments of the contest, but the Lady Warriors scored six of the next eight to take a 12-8 lead four minutes in. Five straight from Vargas-Reyes moments later got the Bucs back to within two and with 1:45 remaining in the first, Tina Stephens scored on a dish from Vargas-Reyes to tie the game at 19. FSW went cold from there as Wabash outscored them 8-1 over the final 1:30 of the quarter to take a 27-20 lead after one.
The Lady Warriors killed the Bucs on the inside and on the break in the first, outscoring FSW 16-4 down low and 8-0 in transition to grab the seven point lead after one. Vargas-Reyes did all she could to keep the Bucs in the game, scoring a game high 11 on 4 of 6 shooting and 3 of 4 from deep in the first.
Wabash hit a three just five seconds into the second to take their first double digit lead of the game and stretched it to 13 on a jumper with 8:05 left in the quarter. A pair of threes from Za'Nautica Downs got FSW back into it and with 3:52 remaining in the period Simone Lett swished a 10 footer to get the Bucs back to within six at 37-31. But the Bucs again struggled to close the quarter, going without a field goal after Lett's bucket as Wabash built their lead back to nine at 42-33 at the break.
FSW managed just four field goals in the second quarter, finishing the half shooting just 37%. The Bucs finished the first 20 minutes with just 11 field goals overall while committing nine first half turnovers.
The Bucs got their offense heated up during the half and another three from Downs had them back to within six less than a minute into the third. But FSW couldn't slow the high powered Wabash attack down. The Lady Warriors gashed the Bucs for 30 points in the quarter, ballooning their lead to 16 with 2:09 remaining. Lett picked up a steal and scored with 14 seconds remaining to make it a 13 point game, but the Bucs gave up an easy two the other way with time expiring in the third to give Wabash a 71-56 lead after three.
FSW shot an even 50% from the field in the third, but allowed Wabash to shoot 55% overall and 3 for 5 from the three point line in the period. Vargas-Reyes and Shondell Vickers each had six in the quarter for the Bucs while Downs netted five to put all three in double figures for the game.
Cue the comeback. Downs connected on her fourth three of the game just nine seconds into the fourth to get the Bucs back to within a dozen and give the Purple and Aqua some life for the first time since early in the third. A driving layup and then another three from Downs gave FSW the first 10 points of the fourth and in the blink of an eye the Bucs were back to within five at 71-66 with 7:46 to go. The Lady Warriors righted the ship and it looked like the Bucs season was on the brink as Wabash scored the next six to go back up 11 with just 5:50 remaining. But FSW wasn't ready to throw the towel in just yet. Vargas-Reyes was fouled shooting a three and hit two free throws to start a 6-0 burst for the Bucs and an offensive rebound and stick back for Lett with 3:21 to go got FSW back to within five at 79-74. FSW stepped up the intensity on the defensive end and a pair of Stephens' free throws and then a runout layup for the Bucs star closed it to just a one point game at 79-78 with 1:26 remaining in regulation. The Bucs got another stop and had a chance to take the lead with 40 seconds left, but an offensive foul call turned the ball back over to the Lady Warriors. On the ensuing inbounds Wabash threw the ball out of bounds, giving the Bucs another chance to take the lead, but a shot in the paint crawled off and the Lady Warriors cleared the glass with 27 seconds to go. The Bucs were forced to foul, sending Wabash to the line, but the Lady Warriors missed both tosses and Stephens grabbed the board for FSW. Head Coach Dr. Kristie Ward drew up a perfect play out of a timeout for FSW, but the Bucs missed a point blank shot at the rim and the rebound was tied up with the possession arrow pointing to Wabash to the anguish of the FSW bench. The Bucs fouled with four seconds left and Wabash hit both free throws, giving FSW just a desperation heave at the buzzer to try to force overtime and it missed its mark to bring the Bucs season to a close with an 81-78 defeat at the hands of the top seeded Lady Warriors.
The Bucs finished the game shooting just 42% from the field, but remained alive thanks to a 50% night from the three point line that included 10 makes from downtown. Downs led the Bucs with 20 points while Vargas-Reyes added 19 and Vickers 12. Stephens closed out her remarkable FSW career with an 18 point, 11 rebound double-double to give her 52 points and 26 rebounds in two tournament games.
FSW finishes their best season in program history at 30-4 and a 9th place finish at the NJCAA National Tournament. Wabash Valley remains unbeaten on the season at a perfect 32-0 and advances to the tournament quarterfinals where they will take on New Mexico on Thursday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.