By Russell Moore
FOR THE TIMES
Wallace State’s women’s bid to win its second state basketball tournament championship in three seasons was unsuccessful Wednesday night, as undefeated and fourth-ranked Shelton State prevailed 78-54 in the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) final at the Tom Drake Coliseum.
The Lady Lions trailed Shelton State by only seven points at the half, 42-35, but struggled to handle the Bucs’ full-court pressure in the opening minutes of the second half.
Wallace State closed the season at 23-10, finishing as ACCC runner-up for the second consecutive season after winning the 2011 title.
“If you break down the season, in retrospect, we made too many mistakes at crucial times. We had 10 freshmen who had to adjust to the next level. It’s a step faster and a step stronger,” said Wallace State coach Ron Burdette, who was selected as the ACCC North Coach of the Year. “We will get back to work here in a couple of weeks and try to erase this feeling from happening again next year.”
At the conclusion of the tournament, Wallace State’s Ashley Nance was named the 2013 ACCC/Region 22 Player of the Year for her impressive regular-season work. The sophomore from Danville was the energizer of the Lady Lions this season, averaging a double-double.
“I hate to see Ashley go. She’s one of the more special players to come through Wallace State in a long time. It’s going to be tough to replace her. All of the accolades she earned tonight are well-deserved,” Burdette said.
In Wednesday’s championship, Shelton State scooted out to a 21-11 lead midway through the first half. Wallace State chipped away at the deficit, but every time the Lady Lions hit a shot to inch closer, the Lady Bucs had an answer.
Wallace State’s Jaylan Snowden cut Shelton State’s lead to 39-35 with 15 seconds remaining in the first half, but tournament MVP Sharin Rivers answered with a 3-pointer as time expired, pushing the Lady Bucs’ advantage to 42-35 at intermission.
Shelton State (32-0) never let Wallace State threaten again.
Snowden, who was an ACCC/Region 22 second-team selection, led Wallace State in the loss with 15 points, hitting four 3’s. Morgan Pearson added seven points, Lauren Harris had six and Nance scored five. Nance and Snowden were All-Tournament selections.
Rivers and Brianna Lancaster poured in 16 points apiece for Shelton State, which won its seventh state title in the last eight seasons. The Lady Bucs advance to the NJCAA Division I national tournament in Salina, Kan., beginning on March 18.
Wallace State, the defending state champion, advanced earlier in the day with a comfortable 81-55 victory over Wallace-Selma in their opening-round ACCC tournament game.
Jestin Lewis poured in a game-high 24 points to pace four Wallace State players in double digits. Sophomore Jamalcolm Griffin scored 15 points, Jacquise Moore added 11 points and nine rebounds, and Ryan King finished with 10 points and five rebounds.
Wallace State, which won four games in four days last season to win the ACCC tournament crown, put Wallace-Selma away early. The Lions (17-13) led 27-12 with 7:24 remaining in the first half, extended the cushion to 39-25 at intermission and led by as many as 33 points in the second half.
“I can’t say enough about our defensive effort. We held their leading scorer to three points and hit the boards all night,” said Wallace State coach John Meeks, whose team had split a pair of regular-season meetings with Wallace-Selma. “We played crisp ball for a good stretch in the first half, making high-percentage shots and playing strong defense.
Jestin Lewis was phenomenal again, and Jacquise Moore did a great job getting rebounds. All in all, we had a lot of different guys step up.”
Wallace State, the North’s No. 5 seed, outrebounded Wallace-Selma 50-32 and shot 45 percent from the field.
For Wallace-Selma (16-12), Garrison Webb led the way with 14 points.
Wallace State advances to play Shelton State in a quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at 7 p.m. The Lions won last year’s championship by defeating Shelton State in the title game.
“Our guys have been itching to play Shelton State again, and we get that chance. We felt like we let one slip away in overtime the last time we played them,” Meeks said. “This is the game most people want to see every year. It’s who we want to play, and I’m sure it’s the same case for them.”
Thursday’s quarterfinal action at Wallace State begins with Gadsden State and Southern Union playing at 1 p.m. Three games will follow, culminating with Wallace State-Shelton State.