TJC rallies from 20 down to reach final

Tyler's Markisha Hawkins draws the foul from Blinn's Denise White during their Region XIV tournament semifinal Saturday at Wagstaff Gym. (Herb Nygren Jr. | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Just call them the “Comeback Kids.”

Two days after overcoming a 14-point deficit, Tyler Junior College rallied from a 20-point halftime hole to register a rousing 69-65 win over Blinn College on Saturday in a Region XIV Women’s Basketball Tournament semifinal at Wagstaff Gymnasium.

The comeback propelled the No. 2 seed Apache Ladies (25-7) into a meeting with No. 1 and unbeaten Trinity Valley (31-0) in the regional championship at 5:30 p.m. today. The winner advances to the NJCAA National Tournament March 20-24 in Salina, Kan.

Trinity Valley won the earlier semifinal, 95-72, over No. 4 seed Lon Morris.

Facing a 45-25 halftime deficit, TJC coach Trenia Jones pushed the right buttons at halftime and in the second half.

“I just challenged them at halftime — I said one or two things can happen — you can make the greatest upset happen tonight or you can make the greatest comeback,” said Jones, whose club improved to 25-7. “Which one do you choose? Comeback or upset? They said let’s have a comeback. I told them we had to fight together; we couldn’t fight each other ... we had to work and that’s what we did in the second half. We played some defense and got ourselves back in it.”

TJC outscored the Lady Bucs, 44-20, to earn a regional championship spot.

“At halftime, even though we were down by 20 points, we knew if we would stick together we could make a comeback,” said Cecilia Okoye, who led the Apache Ladies with 15 points and 10 rebounds. “We just had the fire and desire in the second half.”

Along with Okoye, Markisha Hawkins (14 points), Ericka House (10) and Ashley Benjamin (10) were all in double-figure scoring.

Hawkins, who was plagued by foul trouble throughout, scored 12 points in the second half and switched to point guard at key times during the rally.

In the first half, the Lady Bucs outrebounded TJC by nine, but by the end of the game the total was even at 43-43. Also, the Apache Ladies defended better. In the first half, Blinn hit 5 of 14 3-point attempts, while in the second half, the Lady Bucs were 0 of 6.

“We had the defensive poise in the second half to do what we needed to do,” Jones said. 

The free throw line was a key for Tyler as well. During a stretch of the rally, the Apache Ladies connected on 17 of 19 free throw attempts and finished the game 21 of 26.

Miki Turner and Christie Mooney led the Lady Bucs (22-10) with 20 points each, but only eight and nine points, respectively in the second half.

TJC actually trailed by 20 in the second half, 49-29, with 17:23 to go. The Apache Ladies then went on a 16-2 run to get back into the game, trailing 51-45 at the 10-minute mark. Shawnee Johnson had two buckets in the run, while Benjamin had a key steal and layup.

With the momentum shifting, the crowd encouraged the Apache Ladies.

TJC finally tied the game at 53-53 on two free throws by Keaira Arion. But Blinn eventually took back the lead, 58-55, on two free throws by Turner and another charity toss by Mooney.

At that point, the Apache Ladies scored five straight at the free throw line (two each by Okoye and Ames, one by Hawkins) to take a 60-58 advantage at the 4:06 mark. It was TJC’s first lead since 6-4 with 17:50 on the clock in the first half.

Blinn tied the game at 60 when Valencia White and Mooney each hit a free throw, the latter with 2:52 remaining.

But the Apache Ladies went ahead 66-60 with 1:30 to go as Ames and Johnson hit buckets and Okoye swished two free throws.

However, it wasn’t over as buckets by Mooney and Turner brought Blinn back to within 66-64 at the 54.2 mark. Johnson and Hawkins each hit free throws to put Tyler up 68-64 with 17.6 to go.

The teams exchanged free throws and Tyler completed the comeback, 69-65.

Jones said the fans inspired the team.

“I love our crowd — they are awesome,” Jones said. “They never gave up. Even when we returned from halftime and we were down by 20 points, they were encouraging us. We needed a loud crowd and they were there for us. I pray they will be there (tonight).”

Now, it’s TJC-TVCC time once again.

This will be the 11th time the two teams have met in the regional championship, with the Apache Ladies winning four times. Trinity Valley is going for its fifth-straight regional crown and 17th overall, while Tyler is going for its 10th title.

“We know Trinity Valley is number one and each of their players are phenomenal and they have the greatest coaching staff, but we are the little engines that could,” Jones said. “We are just going to keep playing and keep fighting. We have nothing to lose. There is no pressure.” 

Region XIV Women’s Tournament

Wagstaff Gymnasium, Tyler Junior College

No. 2 Tyler 69, No. No. 6 Blinn 65

BLINN — Miki Turner, 20; Denise White, 8; Christie Mooney, 20; Valencia White, 0; Alycea Price, 10; Joslinn Douglas, 2; Rebekah Cluley, 0; Breanna Barnett, 2.

TYLER — Ericka House, 10; Markisha Hawkins, 14; Ashley Benjamin, 10; Cecilia Okoye, 15; Shawnee Johnson, 7; Amber Ames, 6; Keaira Arion, 4; Kirbi Clark, 3.

THREE-POINT GOALS — BC 5-20, Turner 2-5, Mooney 0-2, Price 2-4, Douglas 1-4, Cluley 0-4, Barnett 0-1. TJC 2-13, House 2-8, Hawkins 0-3, Johnson 0-1, Arion 0-1.

FREE THROWS — BC 16-23, TJC 21-26.

REBOUNDS — BC 43 (White 10, Price 10), TJC 43 (Okoye 10, Benjamine 9).

TOTAL FOULS — BC 23, TJC 21,

ASSISTS — BC 10 (Turner 6), TJC 7 (Johnson 3).

TURNOVERS — BC 16, TJC 14,

BLOCKS — BC 1 (Price), TJC 5 (Hawkins 2).

STEALS — BC 4 (White 2), TJC 5 (Benjamin 2, Okoye 2).

RECORDS — Blinn 22-10, Tyler 25-7.

NEXT UP — Region XIV Finals: No. 2 Tyler vs. No. 1 Trinity Valley, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Wagstaff Gymnasium.

EST. ATT. — 1,000.

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