Eight days after losing at McNeese in the final regular season week, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi emphatically settled matters.
Second team all-conference guard Brittney Mbamalu scored 22 points as the fifth-seeded Islanders used a 19-6 run in the second quarter to eliminate the No. 8 Cowgirls 75-52 in the opening round of the Southland Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Merrell Center on Thursday afternoon. Mbamalu hit five of A&M-Corpus Christi’s seven three-pointers while the Islanders limited McNeese (12-18) to 32.8 percent shooting.
“I thought our team came ready to play,” said Islanders coach Royce Chadwick. “The defense, I thought, was March-ready. When you bring your defense every night, you’ve got a chance to win games.”
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (19-11) will play No. 4 Nicholls Friday at 11 a.m. CT. The Islanders handed the Colonels a 76-55 defeat in Corpus Christi on January 17 in their only meeting during the regular season.
Mbamalu bounced back from her 4-for-15 effort in the previous meeting against McNeese, hitting two of her treys from beyond NBA range and finished with her sixth game this season with at least 20 points.
“I just got into a rhythm,” said Mbamalu. “This whole week, I’ve been putting extra shots in the gym, so the hard work paid off.”
The Cowgirls were unable to contain the Islanders in the paint as they were outscored 36-18 in the interior. The Islanders’ dominance was best defined by their 21-12 edge on the offensive glass that translated to a 16-8 advantage in second chance points.
When A&M-Corpus Christi wasn’t forcing McNeese to miss, they made the most of 18 Cowgirls turnovers which resulted in 24 points.
After Dede Shepard’s free throw tied the game at 18 with 8:23 left in the first half, the Islanders made their decisive move. Mbamalu authored eight straight points with a pair of free throws sandwiched around a pair of treys before capping off the 12-0 run with a short jumper that gave A&M-Corpus Christi a 30-18 lead at the 3:36 mark.
“We just came out with more intensity,” said Mbamalu.
McNeese struggled mightily in the second quarter, hitting on only a pair of their 13 field goal attempts. Making matters more frustrating for the Cowgirls was the inability to take advantage of a 10-4 edge they had in offensive rebounds in the first half.
“I think they hit some big-time shots in big time moments,” said Cowgirls coach Kacie Cryer. “Credit to our kids. They didn’t give up and that’s been our theme this year. We don’t give up.”
Behind the play of Emma Young (10 points, eight boards), the Islanders broke further away in the third quarter. Young scored six of the first eight points of the quarter for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, including a put back following an offensive board to extend the Islanders’ lead to 46-28 with 4:41 remaining. Mbamalu capped the quarter with her fifth triple of the afternoon in the closing seconds of the third to give the Islanders a 61-34 edge leading into the final quarter.
“We accentuated since July that we wanted to be playing good when March rolls around,” said Chadwick. “That’s all we talked about.”
Kre’Ana Henry added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Islanders while Dae Dae Evans scored 10. Dede Sheppard led McNeese with 20 points with Keara Hudnall finished with 10 for the Cowgirls.