Of all the stats that show up in a basketball box score, charges taken are not among them.
On Wednesday night at William R. Johnson Coliseum, however, a pivotal charge taken by senior forward Stevi Parker, one of three she took on the night, proved just as important to the Ladyjacks as any shot made during the contest.
With SFA up 56-55 with 41 seconds to go after a go-ahead trifecta by Kennedy Harris, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Brittany Mbamalu drove to the basket looking to score a go-ahead bucket of her own. Instead, Parker slid over from her position on the other low block and drew a charge on Mbamalu to force a crucial turnover. On the ensuing inbounds, Chanell Hayes would break loose for an easy lay-in, a score that would be the game-winner after Mbamalu banked in a wild three-pointer with two seconds left. The 'Jacks were able to run out the remaining time to clinch the 59-58 victory and become the Southland Conference's lone 20-win team.
"Obviously we're excited about the outcome," said SFA head coach Mark Kellogg. "To win a close game like that, I don't now that we've really had one come down to those last possessions to win a game, so really excited that we figured out a way to win on a night where I didn't think we played particularly well. I'd give Corpus a lot of credit, they were really dialed in defensively, they did a great job against us, and we just really never found a great rhythm offensively. I thought our second half was pretty good, I thought our third quarter energy changed a little bit, and then we just made one or two more plays late than they did. Really proud of our kids, maybe this will define us a little bit and maybe we'll take some momentum from this and move forward."
SFA improved to 20-4 on the season and 12-1 in SLC play on the strength of four players in double digits. Hayes led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds, followed by Harris with 12 points, Taylor Jackson with 11 and Parker with 10 points and seven rebounds. Parker also took three charges for SFA on the night, helping to build momentum for SFA on the defensive end.
"Those were all big plays (those charges), and I think we had three or four of them in the second half, and those are momentum changers for sure," remarked Kellogg. "It's the biggest play on the defensive end, and Stevi is as good as anybody in the country at taking those, and it's more than just Stevi, but she's obviously exceptional at it."
A picturesque start to the game for SFA saw the Ladyjacks hit pay dirt on their first shot of the contest, as Chanell Hayes connected on a three to give SFA the lead. The trifecta was one of three the junior would hit in the opening stanza, the third of which gave SFA a 13-11 lead with 3:35 remaining in the quarter. Despite Hayes' hot start, the Islanders took advantage of six turnovers by the Ladyjacks to build up a 17-10 margin in shots and take a 15-11 lead into the second quarter as a result.
A 5-0 run by the Islanders to open the second quarter put SFA in a 20-13 hole, but the Ladyjacks would hang around with timely baskets even as the Islanders built up an edge on the glass and took advantage of some sloppy play by the 'Jacks. Undeterred, SFA started to chip away at the lead, as Jackson scored four straight points, then answered an Mbamalu trey with a deep hit of her own to cap off her own mini scoring streak. The 'Jacks sandwiched an Imani Johnson layup inbetween two Mbamalu scores in the remaining three minutes of the first half, and would head into the locker room trailing 27-22.
The third quarter began with a series of back and forth play, as the 'Jacks thrice wittled the visitor lead to just one point and each time the Islanders answered. Harris would hit the first of her two treys in the contest with 4:59 remaining to put SFA ahead by two at 35-33, and Hayes would hit from deep a minute later to break the game's fourth tie after an AMCC layup. Later, after Corpus Christi took a narrow lead on a free throw with 27 seconds left, Jackson responded with a free throw, quickly stole the ball back after a miss on her second attempt, and hit a short jumper to give SFA a 41-39 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
In the fourth quarter, Hayes showcased some savvy passing in finding freshman forward Aaliyah Johnson for a pair of layups to open the fourth quarter. Even then, the Ladyjacks couldn't expand the lead out past a point need to clinch the contest. With 6:29 left to play, a pair of Hayes free throws got the lead to 50-45, but an 8-0 run by the Islanders, capped by an Mbamalue trey, flipped the script and forced SFA to play catch-up in the final three minutes. After a layup by Harris was answered in quick succession by AMCC, Parker went to the line and split a pair of foul shots, making the score 55-53 in favor of the visitors.
One minute later, after SFA got a stop on the defensive end, Harris sank her crucial triple to give SFA the 56-55 lead, and Parker's ensuing charge and free throw gave SFA the ball back with 13 seconds left and a 57-55 lead. The Islanders then turned to a set play out of the timeout, but the Ladyjacks were prepared, and the inbounds pass sailed wide of its intended target due to SFA's pressure. On SFA's inbound, Hayes broke free of her marker and streaked down court for the easy lay-in, which would be the points SFA needed to withstand Mbamalu's desperation heave and stave off the upset bid.
"We just worked on some (close game) situations the other day, so I guess that was a good thing, we probably need to keep working on them, but they kept changing defense, they were mixing stuff up on us and trying to keep us out of rhythm," added Kellogg. "The free throw line wasn't particularly good to us, I thought we could've distanced ourselves there, but it just comes down to making plays, you've got to get stops, you've got to have effort and you've got to be dialed in, and our kids were good and I'm proud of their effort on the defensive end tonight."
In winning a game that in many ways did not shape up favorably for them, SFA was able to rely on being just as sharp defensively as their opponents were. Against an Islanders squad that was one of the least turnover prone programs in the conference, SFA was able to forced AMCC into 22 turnovers and score 20 points off those turnovers. Additionally, the 'Jacks held AMCC below 40 percent from the field and allowed just a 28.6 percent conversion from beyond the arc.
Next up for SFA is a return to road play, which has been far from friendly to the 'Jacks, at least compared to their impressive mark at home. The 'Jacks will play Incarnate Word on Saturday in San Antonio as part of a doubleheader with the SFA men's basketball team. Tip-off for that game is schedule for 3:00 p.m.