South Plains College coach Cayla Petree reminded Jasauen Beard and Yanina Inkina of their capabilities right before tipoff Monday.
Then the two sophomore forwards went out and showed their value.
Beard scored a career-high 32 points and Inkina added 22 as South Plains College, after not making a field goal in the first quarter, beat Monroe College 85-73 in the first round of the women’s NJCAA Tournament at the Rip Griffin Center.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Petree said. “I grabbed them before the game started and told them that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time moments, and that’s what I think both of them are. Our team’s very balanced and we have a lot of good players, but we’ve been on their back all year long.”
Beard, a 6-foot sophomore from Midwest City, Oklahoma, went off for nine points in the third quarter and 15 in the fourth in a game that was in doubt until the final minute. She credited center Maddie Dorris’ hustle plays and point guard Brittany Smith’s distribution with getting her going.
“I just felt like everything started to flow when Brit started to see cutters,” Beard said, “and when our motion started, it helped my shot. It helped me get to the rim and hit free throws, it helped me hit layups and crashing the boards helped me get putbacks.”
Monroe cut South Plains’ lead to four points four times between the 1:12 mark of the third quarter and the 5:22 mark of the fourth, and the Mustangs narrowed it to 70-69 with 4:36 left when Lisana Burnett finished a break. South Plains outscored Monroe 15-4 the rest of the way.
“We were able to score the basketball, but just couldn’t get stops on defense,” Monroe coach Ricky Johns said.
Monroe, the last seed in the 24-team field, finished 21-7 after going 10-20 last season.
No. 9 seed South Plains (28-5) will play No. 8 Seward County College (31-2) at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the round of 16. The Lady Texans broke a drought, being in the tournament for the first time since 2005.
“I’m really, really happy and proud of my team and coaches,” Inkina said. “We did a great job. We played so hard, with passion and with our heads. Like coach said, in the beginning we made a lot of turnovers, but the second half really stepped up. We saw each other, good passes, made buckets and it helped us win.”
Inkina’s 22 points matched her third highest output of the season.
Sophomore guard Elizabeth Cera added 13 points, including South Plains’ first bucket of the game — a 3-point goal at 8:45 in the second quarter that cut Monroe’s lead to 17-14. The Lady Texans took their first lead just more than a minute later and their largest lead, 42-31, early in the second half. It wasn’t until the final minute that they put the game away, though.
Monroe got within 56-52 on a three-point play by 6-5 center Cristina Soriano and to 63-59 when Beard lost a defensive rebound and Shania Johnson hit a 3-point goal.
Though the Lady Texans were answering, the Mustangs kept coming. Another 3 from Johnson narrowed the gap to 70-67 before they got within one on the next trip. Once Monroe cut it to 70-69, though, Beard scored nine points in the last 4:17 and Smith hit four free throws in the last minute.
Johnson, a 5-1 guard who was the Region XV player of the year, led Monroe with 19 points. The Mustangs count on Soriano’s height to give opponents problems, but she picked up two fouls early in the first quarter and sat most of the second.
“It was big,” Johns said. “It was like a punch in the gut.”
Monroe was in the NJCAA Tournament for the first time as a Division I program, having previously made the Division II and Division III playoffs. Johns took over the program last season, had only six players and no specific goal for a wins total.
“We came from a tough situation last year with very few players,” guard Camilla Kilinc siad. “It was a struggle, but coach recruited real good players and developed us into a national tournament team.”
at the Rip Griffin Center
SOUTH PLAINS COLLEGE 85
MONROE COLLEGE 73
MONROE — Burnett 4-11 1-2 10, Coulibaly 1-3 0-0 2, Soriano 4-9 5-8 13, Kilinc 1-4 0-0 2, Johnson 7-20 1-1 19, Banks 6-11 1-2 15, Lyons 3-7 1-2 8, DeGree 2-3 00 4, Amechi 0-0 0-0 0, Ruiz 0-0 0-0 0, Cherry 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-69 9-15 73.
SOUTH PLAINS — Beard 11-17 8-10 32, Inkina 6-12 9-9 22, Dorris 1-3 5-6 7, Cera 4-11 2-2 13, Smith 1-2 7-8 9, Huey 0-0 0-0 0, Holley 0-2 2-4 2. Totals 23-48 33-39 85.
Monroe 17 14 21 21 — 73
South Plains 11 26 23 25 — 85
3-point goals: Monroe 8-24 (Johnson 4-13, Banks 2-3, Lyons 1-2, Burnett 1-4, Kilinc 0-1, Cherry 0-1), South Plains 6-16 (Cera 3-9, Beard 2-3, Inkina 1-2, Holley 0-2). Total fouls: Monroe 30, South Plains 15. Fouled out: Coulibaly, Lyons. Rebounds: Monroe 29 (Soriano 10), South Plains 41 (Beard 13). Assists: Monroe 17 (Coulibaly 6, Johnson 6), South Plains 13 (Smith 5). Steals: Monroe 13 (Johnson 7), South Plains 7 (Inkina 2). Turnovers: Monroe 12 (Johnson 4), South Plains 20 (Smith 7). Blocked shots: Monroe 3 (Soriano 2), South Plains 2 (Beard, Holley). Records: Monroe 21-7, South Plains 28-5.