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No. 7 seed Valdosta State defeats No. 2 seed Tampa in first round of NCAA Division II women's basketball tournament

Valdosta State plays Lee in next round Saturday
031122 VSU NCAA tournament first round K_Block.jpg
Posted at 7:54 PM, Mar 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-11 19:54:52-05

JACKSON, Tenn. — Behind three players in double figures and a strong defensive performance from start to finish, the No. 7-seed Valdosta State women's basketball team posted a 59-50 victory over No. 2-seed Tampa Friday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA South Regional.

The Lady Blazers improved to 24-5 on the year and now will face Gulf South Conference rival Lee on Saturday at 5 p.m. in the second round of the NCAA South Regional. Tampa ends its season with a 29-6 record. VSU was led by a game-high 15 points from graduate student Kwajelin Farrar on 7 of 11 from the field, 1 of 2 from the line and eight rebounds, while graduate student Delaney Bernard scored 12 points – all on treys and sophomore Tamiya Francis added 11 points. Farrar earned D2CCA First Team All-South Region honors on Thursday.

The Spartans also had three players in double figures led by Aliyah Abney and Melijah Sullivan, while D2CAA First Team All-South Region honoree Lashayla Wright-Ponder added ten points and eight rebounds.

VSU's defensive prowess began from the get go as it held the No. 8-ranked offense to 20 of 55 from the field for a .364 clip as Tampa entered shooting at a .464 clip. VSU also held a dominating 38-21 lead in rebounding as UT entered the game 12th nationally in total rebounds with 1,266 for the season and averaged 37.2 rebounds per game. VSU forced 15 turnovers in the game and Wright-Ponder had six miscues for the Spartans.

The Lady Blazers finished the game shooting 23 of 55 from the field for a .418 clip, while they were 8 of 19 from deep and 5 of 8 from the line. VSU outscored a team who makes its living inside with a 30-22 lead in points in the paint as Farrar and Co., were dominant throughout the contest.

A trey from Bernard gave VSU a 10-8 lead with over two minutes left in the first quarter and then a bucket inside from freshman Taylor Searcey pushed the lead to 12-8 with 1:34 left in the frame and a timeout by Tampa. Five quick points from former Lady Blazer Kayla Bonilla gave the lead back to Tampa at 13-12 with under a minute left in the quarter. It ended up being the final lead of the game for the Spartans. A steal from graduate student Nicole Heyn on Bonilla and a layup gave VSU a 15-13 lead through the first quarter. VSU opened the game 6 of 16 from the field, while holding the Spartans to 4 of 16 from the field. Bonilla finished the game with nine points on 4 of 9 from the field with one trey.

A triple from Francis following a steal gave VSU its largest lead at 20-13 with 8:34 left in the second quarter as it turned out to be the pivotal quarter in the game. Farrar, following a steal by Bonilla, came up with a great recovery and block on Bonilla's breakaway attempt with VSU leading 20-15 and 7:20 left in the half. A give and go for Francis followed for a 22-15 lead and a turnover by the Spartans with 6:53 remaining in the second quarter. Farrar scored inside for a 24-15 lead with 6:37 to play and another timeout by Tampa.

Sullivan's jumper broke a scoreless streak for both teams, but Searcey scored inside at the other end for a 26-17 score and 2:28 remaining in the half. Francis' trey with the shot clock winding down gave VSU a 29-17 lead with 30 seconds left in the half. Sullivan answered with a bucket at the other end with VSU lead 29-19 at the break.

For the half, VSU shot 44 percent from the field, including 6 of 11 from the floor in the second quarter and out scored the Spartans 14-6 in the second stanza. VSU was 3 of 8 from deep and 2 of 4 from the line for the half. Francis led the team with nine points, while Farrar added eight in the first half.

The Lady Blazer "D' held Tampa to just 7 of 28 from the field for the half for 25 percent, while the Spartans were 1 of 7 from deep and 4 of 4 from the line. Bonilla and Sullivan combined for 15 of the 19 points. VSU forced ten turnovers in the half leading to a 7-3 lead in points off turnovers, while outrebounding the Spartans 17-15.

A big three from graduate student Delaney Bernard got VSU on the board in the second half for a 32-21 lead with 7:05 left in the quarter. Sophomore Lili Long drained one from deep for a 35-23 lead and 5:18 left in the third. Graduate student Mallory Odell scored inside for a 37-25 lead and 3:18 remaining in the third quarter. Two big rebounds from Odell and Heyn called bank from deep for a 40-27 lead with under a minute left in the quarter. Aliyah Abney answered with a trey at the other end – just the second made 3 of the game for Tampa and a 40-30 VSU lead heading into the fourth quarter.

VSU faces Lee for the second time in the NCAA postseason in as many years on Saturday at 6 p.m.