LUBBOCK, Texas - Miles Community College freshman all-American Rebekah Dallinger scored 10 of her game-high 36 points in overtime to lead the Pioneers to a 76-72 win over Gulf Coast State in the opening round of the NJCAA Division I women's basketball championship inside the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas.
"We felt like no one gave us a shot. I'll be honest with you, we fed off that," MCC head coach Taylor Harris told MTN Sports via phone. "The girls, they blasted their music and they had a good time and everything after the game. We just talked about how we kept believing and kept believing and rode that belief all the way to a victory."
MCC led for the majority of the game but found itself trailing by three, 63-60, with less than 20 seconds to play. Dallinger was able to kick the ball out to a wide open Jana Conejero who buried a 3-pointer from straight on to tie the game at 63 and force overtime.
(Dallinger) drove and she did a really good job of seeing that (Canejero) was wide open at the top, kicked it up and – (Canejero) has made those shots in practice all year. It was really, really cool," Harris said. "That was like a year of practice. I remember an intrasquad scrimmage in November she won a game with a deep 3 just like that. That’s just what she does. It was so awesome. Then we get a stop and, shoot, I thought her little half-court heave was going to go, too.”
MCC fell behind 67-65 in the extra session but the Pioneers closed the game on a 11-5 spurt to advance to Tuesday's second round against Trinity Valley Community College.
Dallinger scored MCC's first eight points, as the Pioneers jumped out to a 20-12 lead after the first quarter. Gulf Coast State, the 2019 national champion, would cut into the deficit in the second quarter but MCC would carry a 34-29 advantage into the locker room.
The Pioneers stepped on the gas in the opening minutes of the third quarter, as Dallinger was able to take advantage of the Commodores switching ball screens. MCC opened up a 44-35 lead before Gulf Coast State began to mount a run. The Commodores finished the third quarter with a flurry to take a 51-50 lead into the final quarter.
"We understand that the game is peaks and valleys. Teams go on runs. They were just kind of on a run and we just wanted to make sure we went on a run at the end of the game," Harris said. "We knew that the key was not getting rattled."
Kelbee Denham, a freshman out of Malta, hit a 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter and teammate Lili Long followed with her only 3 of the game to give MCC a 56-51 lead. Gulf Coast State, though, would answer again. A corner triple by all-American Nia Daniel gave the Commodores a 61-58 lead with just over three and a half minutes to play, but the Commodores weren't able to hold on in the final minutes.
"Our biggest emphasis in our 2-3 zone was always knowing where (Daniel) was. Our bench was yelling, I was yelling, everybody, '12 is over here, 12 is over here,' so that we could always be there with a left hand up to contest," Harris said. "We had a high sense of urgency and we had this edge to us because we knew (Daniel) was going to take the majority of the shots. To our teams' credit, man, they really did a great job of following our game plan."
Neither side shot well from the field, as MCC finished just 23 of 70 and Gulf Coast State 27 of 84. The Pioneers had a big advantage at the free throw line, though, as they connected on 25-of-32 attempts. The Commodores made just 11 of 18 from the line.
"Luck favors the aggressor. That's how we play. We're up there at the top of the country in free throw attempts. With all of our ball screens we want to just be aggressive just jamming that ball and that rim and force teams to be in recover situations where they struggle to guard us and have to foul us," Harris said. "I really felt like we played Miles basketball (Monday)."
Dallinger hit 13 of 16 from the charity stripe and added five rebounds and five assists to her 36 points. Long had 14 points and was the only other Pioneer in double figures. Daniel led Gulf Coast State with 20 points.
MCC, the No. 18 seed, will face second-seeded Trinity Valley Community College on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the second round.
"We just have to, shoot, I say rebound, and we gave up 24 offensive rebounds tonight, so we’ve got to try and clean that up," Harris said. "But I think a big thing for us is having fun, staying loose and understanding that’s who we are and that’s what got us here. We’re excited to just go out there and play another defending national champion.”