Hampton claims 3rd straight MEAC title, 54-53By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Mar 10, 2012
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)—Hampton’s Keiara Avant pulled down the final rebound and clutched it tightly as the final horn sounded. She wasn’t about to give Howard the ball again—even if the game was over.
Avant had 10 points and 12 rebounds, and the Pirates claimed their third straight NCAA tournament berth Saturday when they held on to beat the Bison 54-53 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship game.
Jericka Jenkins hit the go-ahead free throw with 1:20 left and finished with 14 points while Alyssa Bennett added 13 for the top-seeded Pirates (26-4), who beat Howard for the third time this season.
“I had confidence in our team and in the defense,” Jenkins said. “We just had to stick with our defense and play tough D, and that’s what we did.”
Tamoria Holmes scored 20 points on 7-of-20 shooting to help the second-seeded Bison (24-8) erase a late 10-point deficit before they came up empty in the closing moments.
The last opportunity came after Hampton’s Choicetta McMillian missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 13.4 seconds remaining. Holmes took an inbounds pass, but her running jumper with about 4 seconds left hit off the back iron.
“I thought it was going in,” Holmes said. “Shot it too hard. Probably rushed it.”
It bounced to Avant, who caught it as the horn sounded to seal a third league championship for third-year Hampton coach David Six.
“Obviously, I had a dream, too—just like (the players) had a dream of playing college basketball and winning championships, I had a dream of coaching college basketball,” Six said. “And I’m appreciative for (the seniors) just buying in to what I was selling when I took the job. … For me, it was important for them to go out as champions.”
This one wasn’t nearly as easy as last year’s 19-point romp over the Bison, or even the 11-point victory over South Carolina State in 2010. This time, his team had to sweat out a series of chances in the final minute for Howard.
After Jenkins’ free throw, Saadia Doyle missed a 3-pointer with about a minute left. Hampton gave the ball back to Howard with about 25 seconds remaining when Avant ran into trouble in the corner, tried to spike the ball off Holmes—and wound up throwing it away.
“I knew I had that turnover late, and I had to get that (final) rebound,” Avant said.
The Bison called a timeout to set up the offense and inbounded the ball to Holmes, but her running jumper in traffic with about 15 seconds left ricocheted off the side of the backboard.
McMillian then missed a foul shot to set up Howard’s final chance, and coach Nikki Reid Geckeler said she agreed with her star player’s choice to take her final shot so quickly.
“I’m very happy with her decision there at the end of the game,” Geckeler said. “We’ve got one of the better rebounders in the conference (Doyle). … I’m pretty happy with the decision that my team made.”
Doyle had 16 points for Howard, which erased that double-figure deficit by scoring 10 straight points during a 14-3 run and held Hampton scoreless for nearly six minutes.
Brown’s 3-pointer with a hand in her face tied it at 49 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Holmes’ short jumper from the left wing roughly 2 minutes later capped the burst and put the Bison up 53-52—their first lead since midway through the first half—before Jenkins, the tournament’s most outstanding performer, hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to put Hampton ahead to stay.
Ariel Phelps finished with 12 rebounds for Hampton.