HANCEVILLE – Wallace State’s basketball teams made a resounding statement Monday night against rival Shelton State, sweeping the Bucs at home for first time since the 2009-10 season.
Morgan Smith’s contested layup with 9.3 seconds left proved to be the game winner in a thrilling 62-61 victory for the Lady Lions in the opener, and sophomore Jestin Lewis poured in a season-high 31 points for the Wallace State men in the finale, lifting the Lions to a 92-85 victory at Tom Drake Coliseum.
Much seems to be at stake each time Wallace State plays Shelton State, but with the sweep, both Wallace State teams are now all alone atop the Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) North Division. Adding to Monday’s significance, was the Wallace State men (18-4, 4-0) extending its winning streak to 11 games while snapping the Shelton State men’s 12-game streak.
Beforehand, the Lady Lions won their 14th game in its 15 tries, defeating the previously once-beaten and fifth-ranked Lady Bucs, snapping their 18-game winning streak. Wallace State (18-3, 3-0 ACCC) also remained a perfect 10-0 at home.
“It’s a big night for both programs and the Wallace State athletics program as a whole. Obviously the rivalry run deep, but it’s special when Wallace State can beat Shelton State twice in the same night. I told the guys before our game that a few years ago the state championship in each sport was decided between both teams,” said Wallace State men’s coach John Meeks. “A lot of factors contributed to us being successful in this game. Our sophomores wanted this win big time.”
Wallace State’s men never trailed against the ninth-ranked Bucs. Four different players scored for Wallace State less than two minutes into the game, helping the Lions surge out to a 9-2 lead, and the Lions later extended it to 17-6 with 14:40 left in the first half.
Wallace State earned its biggest lead of the first half, a 10-point advantage, after Quinterian McConico’s slam with 3:52 remaining pushed the cushion to 36-26. Wallace State then led 41-31 with 2:13 left before Shelton State battled back with one of its strongest runs. The Bucs closed the first half on a 7-0 surge, putting a lid on it courtesy of a 3-point play by Dexter Hood.
Wallace State led 41-38 at the half.
The Lions put the game out of reach early in the second half, orchestrating a quick 14-4 run. Freshman Lee Moore capped off the run with a slam dunk at the 13:46 mark, handing the Lions a 55-42 lead. Minutes later, the Lions received 3-pointers from Moore, Lewis and Marcus Burwell on consecutive possessions to grab a 70-54 advantage with 8:24 left.
It took until the closing minute for Shelton State to trim the gap to single digits.
Meeks felt Wallace State’s fast start in both halves was imperative.
“Our guys stepped up and responded big time. We are beat up. We have a bunch of guys who are sick, so we’re having to play crazy matchups. Assistant (coach) Tommy Suitts is doing a fantastic job of helping me make sure our guys are getting enough rest,” Meeks said. “The transition game is important to us, and we were able to score a lot on the fast break. We also shot the ball well. Jestin Lewis, Marcus Johnson and Lee Moore have been unbelievable for us all season. When one is not at his best, the other two are going to be great. Jestin and Lee stepped up in this game. They were able to score and they also defended two of the better guards in the conference.”
Lewis, a Mercer commitment, has scored 18, 23, 29 and 31 points in Wallace State’s four conference wins.
Moore also had a big night for Wallace State, pouring in 24 points. Cody Farley added nine points for the Lions, Marcus Burwell had eight and McConico added seven.
“This win is nice, but we have to make sure it doesn’t define us. It’s a conference win and a step in the right direction. We protected home court like you need to do in this conference. It’s all about taking care of business,” Meeks said. “We’ll consider celebrating a lot if we’re cutting down the nets in March. Right now, we’ve got to focus on not laying an egg when we got to Lawson State on Thursday.”
Marcus Merriweather led Shelton State in the loss with 20 points. Jalen Houston added 18 points and Moss scored 17.
Wallace State women 62, No. 5 Shelton State 61
Morgan Smith has played unlike a freshman all season for the Lady Lions. She doesn’t seem to get nervous or shy away from the spotlight. In Monday’s opener, Smith ended Shelton State’s 18-game winning streak with the biggest shot of her young collegiate career.
Trailing 61-60 with 30.4 seconds remaining, Wallace State made sure to take its time during its final possession and was confident with multiple scoring options coming out of a timeout. Smith was the second Lady Lion to touch the ball. She knifed through the lane and squeaked by a pair of Shelton State defenders before rolling in a left-handed layup with 9.3 seconds left for the 62-61 advantage.
Shelton State was unable to get off a shot on its ensuing possession as time expired, sparking off a strong celebration for the Lady Lions at midcourt.
“I was glad to get the ball in that situation. It has to be the most important shot of my career just because it allowed us to be our biggest rival. It’s an awesome feeling,” said Smith, a Cullman graduate who has a strong contingency of family and friends in attendance on most nights. “It’s a great feeling knowing so many people I care about get to see me play. I love the support.”
Smith finished with a team-high 14 points and five rebounds for Wallace State.
Both rivals played another classic. Neither team maintained more than a six-point lead during the first half. Shelton State’s biggest lead was six and Wallace State’s was four points.
Shelton State closed the first half on an 8-2 run, holding on to a 32-26 advantage at the break.
Less than four minutes into the second half, a 3-pointer by Shelton State’s Amber Yelding extended the Lady Bucs’ lead to 38-29.
Wallace State never panicked and continued to chip away at its deficit.
Kaneisha Mixon eventually swung the momentum back in Wallace State’s favor with 7:45 remaining, draining a 3-pointer from the left corner for her only bucket of the game. The 3 handed the Lady Lions a brief 50-48 advantage.
It then became a see-saw affair. There were four ties and three lead changes over the next six minutes. Wallace State’s Brandee Busenlehner tied the game at 58-58 with 1:46 remaining, but Yelding answered with a 3 of her own to push Shelton State back in front at 61-58 with 1:25 left.
Wallace State held Shelton State scoreless the rest of the way and mustered enough offense for the win.
Morgan Pearson cut the deficit to 61-60 with a layup with 1:06 remaining. Wallace State’s defense then forced a shot clock violation on the next Shelton State possession, setting the stage for Smith’s dramatic game-winning bucket.
“I’m tickled to death for our team. They played hard like they’ve done all year long. We talked about a few things at halftime and we just went back to the elementary stuff. We hit a little lull in the second half, but we were focused on stopping Shelton State on its end and scoring on our end,” said Wallace State women’s coach Ron Burdette. “It’s the first time I’ve been able to beat Shelton State as a head coach, and it puts us in a great position to do what we want to do in the North Division. We deserve to enjoy this one for a few hours and be excited about it, but we can’t dwell on it because we have a game Thursday just as important in Birmingham.”
Pearson scored 13 points off the bench for the Lady Lions, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half. Sophomore Jasmine Coleman finished with nine points, six rebounds and five blocks and Busenlehner added eight points.
“Everyone contributed to this win,” Burdette said. “Before the game, we thought we could beat the fifth-ranked team in the nation, and now we know we can.”
For Shelton State, Katherine Goldsby scored a game-high 16 points. Shadejah Moore added nine points and Yelding and Kendara Watts each contributed eight.
Both Wallace State teams travel to Lawson State on Thursday.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.