HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State's women's basketball team earned its first ever opening-round win at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I national tournament on Tuesday, making program history with a convincing 87-59 victory over Eastern Arizona at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kansas.
Sophomores BreAnna Thompson and Morgan Smith each finished with double-doubles for the 19th-seeded Lady Lions, who led the entire way against the 11th-seeded Lady Gila Monsters. Thompson scored a game-high 20 points and collected 14 rebounds, tallying her ninth double-double of the season. Smith, the 2015 ACCC Player of the Year, scored 17 of her 19 points in the second half and added 11 boards.
Haven Albright poured in 17 points for Wallace State, Morgan Hardy added 10 and the Lady Lions (28-5) surpassed the 80-point mark for the third time in five games.
"This win ranks right up there with best ones I can remember. We played one of the more complete games we've played all season on both ends of the floor and it was impressive, especially since it's in an energized environment at the national tournament," said Wallace State women's coach Ron Burdette. "I'm thrilled to death for our players and how they played. We were definitely the aggressor the whole way."
Tuesday's triumph also marked Burdette's 100th career victory with Wallace State in less than four full seasons.
"It's a special win to me from a personal standpoint, and I'm pleased with what we've accomplished so far in four years at Wallace State," Burdette said. "I'm more excited about what today means for the team though. I'm excited they came out on big stage and beat a higher seed by nearly 30 points."
Wallace State advances to play third-seeded Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College on Wednesday at 5 p.m. in a second-round game. Trinity Valley is the three-time defending NJCAA Division I national champion.
The Lady Lions, making their first national tournament appearance since 2011 and fifth overall, made sure Tuesday was a memorable day.
Wallace State led 10-4 less than three minutes into the game and maintained a 15-11 edge with 13:54 remaining before the half.
The Lady Lions then hit another gear, putting together a 13-1 run to grab a 28-12 advantage with a little more than nine minutes to go. Thompson hit a pair of free throws and Smith, Albright and Tyra Caudle each made baskets during the surge for Wallace State before Jada Dale capped it with a reverse layup and a 3-pointer, one of eight 3-pointers the Lady Lions converted in the game.
Eastern Arizona (27-5) answered with a 13-0 run of its own to trim Wallace State's lead to 28-25 with 4:49 left before halftime.
Wallace State punched right back with an 11-4 run to close the half and led 39-29 at the break.
Wallace State didn't waste any time pulling away in the second half. Smith scored 10 points over the opening seven minutes, pushing the Lady Lions' cushion to 57-42 with 14:10 to go in the game.
Caudle handed Wallace State its biggest lead at the time, at 61-44, with a layup at the 12:27 mark.
Wallace State extended its lead to as many as 28 points as the final score indicated.
"It was a great win all-around. We talked about starting out fast and we were able to do it. Haven Albright hit a 3-pointer to start the game, and it energized us even more. We were pretty energized to begin with," Burdette said. "We had a good gameplan and executed it about as well as you can."
Wallace State shot 49.2 percent from the field (31-of-63) and 32 percent from behind the arc (8-of-25).
Eastern Arizona was a lowly 1 of 23 from the 3-point line.
Ashley Duffy led four Eastern Arizona players in double figures with 14 points. Chukwuma Chiamaka, Natalia Hausmann and Jazmin Horne scored 11 points apiece.
For Wallace State, Mixon and Caudle each had six points and Dale finished with five.
Caudle and Dale helped Wallace State's bench outscore Eastern Arizona's 15-4.