HOUSTON — With time running out, Grambling swiped the Southwestern Athletic Conference Tournament championship and the NCAA Tournament berth that goes with it.
Shakyla Hill had 27 points and the third-seeded Tigers had two critical steals in the final minute to defeat top-seeded Southern 72-68 on Saturday to make the NCAAs for the first time in 19 years.
Hill, the tournament MVP, had a layup and 3-pointer and Jazmin Boyd scored four points for a 9-0 run that gave Grambling (19-13) a 66-60 lead with 2½ minutes to go. Despite a flurry of turnovers and missed shots, the teams traded baskets before Briana Green scored twice, pulling the top-seeded Jaguars (17-13) within 68-66 with a nice spin move in the lane with 31.6 seconds to play.
The lead was three after a quick foul and Monisha Neal’s free throw. It appeared the Tigers had things wrapped up when freshman Justice Coleman, who is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Southern is located, anticipated a soft pass and went coast-to-coast for a left-handed layup with 16.9 seconds remaining to make it 71-66.
Southern answered with a quick over-the-top inbounds basket by Sarai Blissett that made it a one-possession game and when Hill missed the first of two free throws at 12.7 seconds it remained intense. However, Hill, who was 11 of 18 from the field but 4 of 9 from the line, made the second free throw. She then stripped a driving Jaguar player in the lane and Neal secured the loose ball before dribbling out the final seconds to send Grambling to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
All five of the Tigers’ previous trips were in the 1990s, including a four-year run from 1996-99.
Neal, who made the all-tournament team, and Boyd had 11 points apiece for Grambling and Hill, who had a rare quadruple-double earlier this season, had 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Green had 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds for Southern and Samantha Duncan had 12 points and nine rebounds. Both were named to the all- tournament team.
The teams swapped 7-0 runs in the first quarter that ended up Southern on top 19-17. The Tigers had a 9-0 run and its first lead midway through the second quarter but Duncan’s buzzer beating 3 had the Jags on top 39-37 at halftime.
The game was tied six times in the third quarter, with Coleman’s jumper in the last minute tying the game at 53.
Grambling shot 54 percent in the second half while Southern was 14 of 31 and didn’t get to the foul line. The Jags also had eight of their 18 turnovers in the fourth quarter.