Gazebo Gazette

Mississippi Gulf Coast’s first conference championship in 24 years was earned the hardest of ways. The Bulldogs claimed the MACCC women’s basketball title by beating third-place Southwest Mississippi 67-63 on its home court Thursday night.

“I’m very emotional, and I’m so proud of this team,” Gulf Coast coach Hope Adams said. “I’m so happy for these girls. It was hard winning this last game. They earned it, and I wouldn’t ask for any other way than to get on the road and fight for this win. They really earned the right to say they’re state champs.”

Gulf Coast reached the 20-win mark in its 24th game, finishing the conference grind 13-1. The Bulldogs shared the title with Pearl River but earned the top seed in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament on a tiebreaker.

Gulf Coast will play the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 9 Southern-Shreveport and No. 8 East Central in Decatur. The quarterfinal matchup will take place at Dantzler Arena on Monday at 5:30 p.m.

“We’re champions,” Gulf Coast guard Simaru Fields (Pass Christian) said. “I came back another year to be a champion. I’m happy we got it together. Coach went and recruited, and we helped. We’re just solid and trying to win the whole thing. We’re trying to take it to nationals.”

Fields made three big free throws in the final 10 seconds to ice the game, finishing with 10 points.

Tytiana Buckley took over down the stretch when the Southwest (20-7, 11-3) kept pulling even. She hit a pair of free throws with 2:48 to play to make it 59-57, and then buried a 3-pointer with 2:06 left for a 62-59 lead.

Her drive with 82 seconds left gave her a team-high 18 points and made it 64-61, setting up Fields’ steady shooting from the charity stripe.

“I know we’re good, but we’re at our best when I’m playing good,” Buckley said. “Coach says I’m the glue. I just knew I had to play. I had hurt my knee a little in the first half, but the toughest team survived.”

Myan Barthelemy played her best game of the season, scoring 10. She had big buckets late in the third quarter.

“The girls got caught up in the moment with the whistles,” Adams said. “I could see they were getting discouraged, and I always tell the bench to be ready. Myan came in, and she was ready tonight and gave us big minutes defensively and offensively. She was able to control the team from that point-guard position.”

Hunt finished with 13 points. Her 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4:03 to play answered a Bears triple that tied the game for the first time in the second half.

“When they made a bad call, I told everybody we needed to not react and just feed off the energy,” she said. “That’s what we did.”

It was Gulf Coast’s sixth women’s basketball conference championship and first since 2000. The Bulldogs have won 20 games for the first time this century.

They were quickly talking about next steps rather than dwelling on the trophy they’d just won.

“Last year, we went down in the semifinals,” Hunt said, “and that’s giving us the urge to go win it now.”

NJCAA Region 23 Tournament

First Round

Saturday, March 9

Higher seed hosts

No. 9 Southern-Shreveport at No. 8 East Central, Decatur, time TBD

No. 12 Jones at No. 5 Itawamba, Fulton, time TBD

No. 10 Mississippi Delta at No. 7 Northeast Mississippi, Booneville, time TBD

No. 11 Meridian at No. 6 Northwest Mississippi, Senatobia, time TBD

Quarterfinals

Monday, March 11

Higher seed hosts

East Central-Southern-Shreveport winner at No. 1 Mississippi Gulf Coast, 5:30 p.m.

Itawamba-Jones winner at No. 4 Coahoma, Clarksdale, time TBD

Northeast-Delta winner at No. 2 Pearl River, Poplarville, time TBD

Northwest-Meridian winner at No. 3 Southwest Mississippi, Summit, time TBD

Semifinals

Thursday, March 14

Clinton, Miss.

Finals

Friday, March 15

Clinton, Miss.