ITTA BENA, MISS. – Richelle Velez scored 26 points to match her season-high as Texas Southern used a high-scoring fourth quarter to pull away in an 86-79 road win over the Mississippi Valley State Devilettes.
Saturday’s match-up was much closer than the first meeting between the two teams last month. TSU defeated MVSU 88-58 on Jan. 25 in Houston.
The game was tied at 12 at the end of the first quarter but MVSU led 36-35 at the half. Velez sank five three-point shots in the opening half and scored 18 points. Texas Southern committed 18 turnovers in the first half while MVSU turned over the ball 20 times.
TSU began the third quarter with a 9-5 burst to lead 44-41 at the 7:15 mark. The Tigers held a 49-47 lead with 4:26 left in the third; however, TSU went scoreless for more than two minutes. MVSU outscored TSU 6-0 and led 53-49 when Velez drained a three-point basket with 97 seconds left in the period to pull the Tigers within one (53-52).
TSU trailed 57-54 after three quarters as they blitzed Valley with a 12-0 run in less than two minutes to lead 66-57 with 8:10 on the clock in the fourth quarter. Ataiya Bridges scored seven points during a 10-6 spurt to increase the Tigers’ lead to 76-63 with 4:14 remaining in the game. However, MVSU refused to go away as they hung around and made it a game within the final minutes.
Ahead 77-72 with 1:48 left, TSU committed a turnover followed by a team foul and technical foul over the next 33 seconds. MVSU’s Ayonna Cotten went to the foul line for free throws and made all four foul shots to cut TSU’s lead to 77-76. MVSU also got possession of the ball after the free throws but TSU’s Ciani Cryor stole the ball and was fouled by Cotten. Cryor made both free throws for a 79-76 TSU lead with 1:09 on the game clock.
Cotten missed a three-point attempt on the ensuing possession but MVSU’s Shelli Thigpen got the offensive rebound and found Erin Smith. Smith sank a three-pointer to tie the game at 79 with 56 seconds remaining.
The Tigers were patient on their possession before Cryor penetrated Valley’s defense and passed to Jekalen Jones for a basket in the paint to put TSU ahead 81-79 with 29 seconds left in the game.
After a timeout by MVSU, Smith missed a three-point shot and Velez rebounded the miss. Two seconds later, MVSU fouled TSU’s Ataiya Bridges to send Bridges to the foul line. Bridges made the first attempt but missed the second. Thigpen rebounded the miss and called timeout so the Devilettes could advance the ball into the frontcourt after the timeout.
Cotten missed a game-tying three-point shot and Jekalen Jones grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Jones made both free throws for a five-point (84-79) TSU lead with just 10 seconds on the clock. Bridges stole the ball with eight seconds remaining and sealed the win with a layup.
Bridges had 18 points, six assists, three rebounds and three steals in the win. Velez made 8-of-15 field goal attempts including 7-for-12 from long range while Niya Mitchell scored 16 followed by 10 from Cryor. As a team, TSU had 18 steals.
Cotten led Valley with 21 points followed by Azaria Howard’s 20 points and 13 rebounds while Shelli Thigpen chipped in with 17 points and 10 boards.
Texas Southern’s next game is Monday, Feb. 24 at Arkansas Pine Bluff. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.
TSU improves to 15-9 overall and 10-3 in the SWAC.