LINCROFT, New Jersey -- It was a steal and finish that will go down in history. It saved our collective fannies.
With West Georgia Tech reeling after blowing a 16-point fourth-quarter lead and Mid Michigan setting up for a shot with the game tied in the final seconds -- Kia Jefferson stole the inbounds pass at midcourt and drove for an uncontested layup giving West Georgia Tech a thrilling 68-66 victory over Mid Michigan in the NJCAA Division-III Tournament’s opening round Thursday night in Lincroft, N.J.
Perhaps it was fitting, as Jefferson was the one that sparked West Georgia Tech early in the third quarter. Her two steals on consecutive possessions led to four-straight points, and West Georgia Tech then went on 18-5 run to push its lead out to 55-40 with 8:16 left in the fourth quarter.
The Golden Knights seemed to have the game in hand, but Mid Michigan fought back with its full court pressure and the Golden Knights’ lead wilted over the final minutes. The Lakers tied it with a pair of free throws with 55 seconds left and had all of the momentum.
With 28 seconds left West Georgia Tech had possession after a jump ball and was able to set up for the last shot. But Mid Michigan tied the ball with seven ticks on the clock and the possession arrow in their favor. The Lakers called a timeout and set up for a potential game-winning shot and the mid-court line with :07 remaining.
That’s when Kia Jefferson saved the night, and the season.
West Georgia Tech is in the final four for the first time in school history and will play a semifinal game Friday afternoon at 5 p.m., EST, against top-seeded Roxbury (Mass.).
The winner of that game will play for the national championship.
Jacky Jones was unstoppable for much of the game, scoring a game-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field.
She hauled in nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
Angie Colbert and De’Janae Cummings both added eight points for West Georgia Tech.
“We won the game tonight with our defense and Kia had a big play in the clutch,” WGTC head coach Kenny Edwards said. “We played as ugly of a game as we have played all year, but give credit to our kids for finding a way to win the ballgame.”
To say that WGTC played ugly would be quite the understatement. The Golden Knights found themselves in early foul trouble and trailed 27-25 at halftime despite the Lakers shooting just 6 of 33 from the field and 0 of 10 from three-point range.
Mid Michigan made up for its lack of offensive production by going 15 of 16 from the free throw line.
West Georgia Tech lost the rebounding battle for the first time this season, with Mid Michigan holding a 40-34 edge. The Lakers had 16 offensive rebounds.
WGTC outscored the Lakers 23-12 in the third quarter to seemingly take control of the game, only to give it back to Mid Michigan in the final minutes. In that third quarter, Jefferson and Angie Colbert turned up the pressure defensively and gave WGTC what would turn out to be just enough cushion.
Both teams turned the ball all night, with WGTC committing 27 to Mid Michigan’s 28. It seemed as if most of WGTC’s turnovers came in the game’s final minutes.
West Georgia Tech shot 37.3 percent from the field (25 of 67), 33 percent from three-point range (5 of 15) and 59.1 percent from the charity stripe (13 of 22).
Mid Michigan ended the night shooting at a 31.3-percent clip from the field (20 of 64). The Lakers connected on an unbelievable 25-of-28 from the free throw line (89.3 percent).
But the Golden Knights held one of the nation’s most prolific three-point shooting teams to just 1 of 17 from beyond the arc, which was the difference in the end.
What might get lost in the fog of the game’s final two minutes was Angie Colbert’s three-pointer with less than two minutes remaining, which gave WGTC a 66-62 lead at the time.
But Mid Michigan would not go away.
Also lost in the fog of the game’s final minute was Sydnee Clark’s three-pointer with the shot clock running down with a little more than 7:00 remaining. That big three gave the Knights a 60-44 lead. But the lead evaporated quickly. That 16 point lead, in the end, was just enough.
Just enough for the Knights to live to see another day.
Just enough to set up the biggest game in West Georgia Tech’s young history, in Friday afternoon’s semifinal against No. 1 Roxbury.
It’s March -- and it’s pure madness.