FROM NSU SPORTS:
KATY, Texas – Sophomore point guard Janelle Perez scored six straight points, capped by a game-winning layup with 2.4 seconds left, to fuel a late comeback by the Northwestern State women's basketball team to upset top-seeded Lamar 61-60 Saturday afternoon to snag a spot in Sunday's Southland Conference Tournament championship game at the Merrell Center.
The game-winner from Perez was set up by a five-second violation on an inbounds play from the Cardinals (18-12). Northwestern State improved to 20-12, and has 20 wins and a Southland championship game appearance for the first time since the 2003-04 season.
The Lady Demons will play Stephen F. Austin in the championship game at noon Sunday on CBSSports.com. The matchup will be the 10th time the two teams have faced each other in the championship game, with the Ladyjacks taking all those meetings. This season, the teams each won on their homecourts.
NSU's semifinal win resulted from a game-ending 11-3 run fueled by stifling defense.
"Wow," said an excited co-head coach Brooke Stoehr. "I thought today was just a battle. We got up on them early, and they fought back. They got up on us, and we fought back. I thought it was a tremendous game overall.
"A lot of credit goes to Lamar and how they competed, but I couldn't be more proud of the ladies I have in that locker room down there," she said. "They're fighters."
Down five points with less than a minute to play, Perez drove the lane to score on a layup with 57 seconds left. On the next Lamar possession, the Cardinals burned 27 seconds with a three-point lead and put up a wild shot that missed. Perez grabbed the rebound and raced down the floor to score on another layup to cut the score to 60-59 with 22 seconds to play.
NSU quickly called a timeout followed by another timeout called by Lamar. NSU applied the full-court pressure that forced into five-second violation on the inbounds attempt. Perez took the ball to the top of the key, played for the last shot and drove the lane with just under nine seconds showing. After the ball bounced on the rim three times, it fell through the net to give NSU the one-point edge with 2.4 seconds left. Lamar called time to set up a desperation full-court play, but didn't get off a shot before the buzzer.
"We haven't been the best defensive team, but we've gotten key stops when we need them," said Stoehr. "We did that today, and that five-second violation is probably the biggest defensive call we've had all year.
"As far as the offensive possession, there is nobody in this league that I want ball in their hands more than Janelle Perez. She's clutch, and clutch players make clutch plays at very critical times. I told her at halftime she was made for these moments, and she came through today in a big way."
On the possession before the comeback started, Lamar was able to grab seven offensive rebounds, four by Alice Robinson. Gia Ayers missed the first jumper with 2:49 to play, and by the time NSU ended the possession with a foul, there was only 1:12 remaining on the clock.
JaMeisha Edwards made the first free throw, and missed the second that morphed into the comeback by NSU.
Perez finished with 14 points, second for NSU behind Trudy Armstead who led all scorers with 21 points. She paced the Lady Demons in the first half with 14. Beatrice Attura had nine points, Kourtney Pennywell had eight, Keisha Lee had four, Robin Richardson had three and Presley Owens had two.
The Lady Demons shot 48 percent from the floor and 26 percent from 3-point range. Northwestern State held Lamar to 38 percent from the floor and 29 percent from 3-point range. The Cardinals only had one field goal in the final nine minutes.
"We talk about the importance of getting stops and getting the ball back. We really focused in on personnel and who we wanted to touch the ball," said Stoehr. "Our kids executed perfectly. At this point in the year, it's about players making plays, and that is what we saw today."
In the first two games against Lamar, Northwestern State averaged 20 turnovers, but in the semifinal game NSU only turned the ball over 12 times. Lamar, who averaged 27.5 points off turnovers in the first two meetings this season, got just 14 points that way Saturday.
Northwestern State was outrebounded 36-32, and the Lady Demons forced Lamar into 11 turnovers.