In a fierce battle of the defenses, the Alabama State University Hornets came up just short against the Prairie View Agricultural and Mechanical University Panthers in a 61-58 final on Jan. 22.
One thing became abundantly clear early on in the first quarter. Unlike in most games, the Hornets did not have the height advantage in this game. Panthers center Brittany Gardner, who clocks in at 6 feet, 4 inches, was followed by a parade of players 6 feet and up. This obstacle would make it difficult for the Hornets to get into the paint, which is their go-to option most of the time.
Despite being a little undersized, the Hornets bigs, led by forwards Shmya Ward and Jada Nneji, did not back down, coming up with a couple of blocks to set the tone. This kind of play led to both teams’ playing suffocating defense all night long, with multiple players collapsing the paint and closing out on jump shots.
Both Ward and Gardner showed off some impressive footwork, maneuvering their way to the basket. Because of the traffic in the paint, the Hornets took a lot more shots around the perimeter than usual. Threes from Hornet guards Hannah White and Tyesha Rudolph gave the Hornets a slight 11-8 lead before taking the first timeout. Sophomore guard Dakiyah Sanders led the bench unit, giving her team a spark off the bench by pushing the tempo and getting some easier buckets in transition.
After a somewhat sloppy first quarter on the offensive side for both teams, ASU had a slim lead of 19-17. In the second quarter, both teams struggled to score. The Panthers’ defense ramped up by getting hands in the passing lanes and forcing the ASU women to rush and turn the ball over. With the Hornets’ offense being stalled, senior guard Ayanna Emmanuel took it upon herself to attack the Panthers’ defense. Her aggressiveness resulted in her scoring eight of her team’s 10 points in the quarter.
The Panthers also struggled on the offensive end, with most of their points coming from the free-throw line. With such a physical game between each team, neither could establish any consistency on offense. Despite their poor shooting, the Hornets never trailed in the quarter, and the two teams went into halftime tied at 29.
Prairie View opened the third quarter with a couple of layups to get their first lead since the first quarter, going up 33-29 early. The Hornets responded with a couple of fastbreak points and tied the contest back up at 33. These points would be the start of their 11-0 run, putting them up 42-33 for the game’s largest lead.
A couple of threes got the Panthers back in the game as both teams exchanged scores, with Prairie converting shots from the free-throw line as well. The Hornets hung onto a slight three-point lead at 48-45 going into the final quarter of play.
With a close game, neither team could afford to make mistakes or miss shots. The teams traded baskets to start, with ASU’s trio of Ward, Emmanuel, and Jayla Crawford, all scoring in their own ways. The Hornets went on a 6-0 run pushing their lead to eight points with a little over six minutes to go.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, they went cold for the rest of the game. Due to several turnovers and rushed shots, they only scored one more point that came at the free-throw line. On the other hand, the Panthers went on a 12-1 run to end the game. Their defense made big stops down the stretch and their offense delivered on the other side of the court. Their consistency on defense and their poise on offense led to them edging past the Hornets in a back-and-forth game.
The Hornets struggled offensively all night long, with the team’s leading scorer being Emmanuel, who had 14 points on 5-for-13 shots. The Hornets as a whole shot 32.3% (21-of-65) from the field and 19% (4-for-21) from behind the arc. Despite winning the turnover battle 19 to 26, the Hornets failed to convert on a few of those extra possessions they were given. They lost the points off turnovers battle, 19 to 15.
The Panthers shot a little better at 36.4% (20-55) from the field and 26.7% (4-15) from three. They also had two women in double digits, with Kirdis Clark and Diana Rosenthal scoring 17 points each.
The Hornets look to bounce back as they finish out their Texas road trip with a matchup against Texas Southern University on Jan. 24 at 5:30 p.m.