Jessica Jones was the woman of the hour after a hard-fought win over Cowley College on Wednesday night in Panther Gymnasium.
Head coach JJ Davis called a timeout with the score tied at 67. When it was time to pass the ball inbounds, Davis drew up the team’s “our time” play, where Chrissy Brown found Jones in the paint. Jones caught the ball and pivoted towards the rim, where she muscled up the rock as she was fouled.
The sophomore shooting guard swung her arm and pumped her fist with emotion as NCCC faithful cheered on at the highest decibel level.
Jones completed the three-point play at the charity stripe to make the score 70-67 with 5.9 seconds left in the game. Cowley failed its opportunity to tie the game at the other end of the court before fouling Jones once more. She would sink 1 of 2 free throws to cement the final score at 71-67, putting the Lady Panthers (6-10, 1-8) in the win column for the first time since Nov. 25 after dropping Cowley – a team that advanced to the second round of the NJCAAA Region 6 playoffs last year, though the team returned just one player – to 15-5 on the year.
Jones said she knew what the moment meant for her team.
“Chrissy had the ball, she was supposed to pass it to me in the middle, I either go in for the layup, kick it out, so I had the lane, hit it off the glass, I made it,” Jones said. “And honestly, it’s the best feeling in the world to get our first conference win. I was pretty confident, although I had an off-night of shooting, I knew I had to come clutch. And that’s what I did. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited. We’ve been in a rut, and we just really needed this win, get something going.”
Jones finished the day with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Morgan Bolen recorded 16 points and four rebounds.
Davis, who was as buoyant as he has been all year, said when the moment presents itself, the best players usually come through.
“Players make plays, that’s it,” Davis said. “Big time players make big plays. We told her – she didn’t shoot real well I don’t think (4 of 15) – but I told her big players make big, big plays. And she had the opportunity to make a big play. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Our best player scored, and that’s the way basketball is sometimes. Our best player scored tonight, and made us better.”
Jones in fact made the entire outcome better and in favor of the Lady Panthers even before her go-ahead basket. With the score 67-64 Cowley, Bolen missed an open 3, but Jones was in position and able to catch the rebound in the air, simultaneously hitting the layup as she was fouled with 50 seconds left in the game.
She knocked down the free throw to tie the game at 67. Leading up to these monumental moments, Jones stroked a 3 to make the score 58-56 and drove hard to the rim as she was fouled; she knocked down both free throws to make the score 65-64 late in the game.
The team did a noteworthy job all night to stay with one of the top teams in KJCCC. In the first half, Bolen kept the ship afloat thanks to her 11 points, including three 3s. Briona Jensen produced 6 points thanks to her two 3s. The team made seven 3s in the first half, and shot an overall 40 percent.
NCCC outrebounded Cowley 19 to 17 in the first half.
By the time the game was over, though, Bolen recorded four 3s, adding on to an overall 14 3s for the team in comparison to Cowley’s nine. Rebounding (42) and turnovers (12) were a tie between the teams.
Lauren Jones and Brown both made three 3s. Brown grabbed four offensive rebounds and Hayley Stiger had three.
NCCC just beat Cowley, a team that had just beaten Hutchinson (16-2), and Davis said he attributes the win to his sophomores.
“My five sophomores are phenomenal, they’re phenomenal, and we had some good bench play – Lauren Jones and Briona Jensen and Ariana Crook and Addy Emmons,” Davis said. “Those kids came in and did what they were supposed to do. Those kids stepped up when we needed them to step up.”
Davis will need that type of effort again versus Colby Community College (12-5, 3-5) Monday on the road.