By The Associated Press
GARLAND, Texas — Prairie View A&M players were exhausted, beat up during a physical game and challenged by persistent Mississippi Valley State.
The Lady Panthers, however, were determined to secure their third straight NCAA tournament berth — no matter how long it took.
Kiara Etienne scored 31 points, Jeanette Jackson had six points in the fourth overtime and Prairie View A&M won its third straight Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament title, beating MVSU 100-87 on Saturday.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t even know how many overtimes we played,” Prairie View A&M coach Toyelle Wilson said. “I credit our girls; relentless. They said they could go five more (overtimes).”
Prairie View A&M (17-14) was probably just as content finishing off their eighth straight victory in the fourth overtime. In a game where the margin was rarely more than four points after halftime, the Lady Panthers outscored the Devilettes 15-2 in the final extra session.
Prairie View’s Larissa Scott scored 24 points, and Latia Williams added 17. The Lady Panthers were 9-14 after losing a second time this season to the Devilettes on Feb. 16.
Prairie View hasn’t lost since and will play in the NCAA tournament again after losing to Connecticut last year in the opening round.
“I knew we were getting tired,” said Jackson, who finished with 13 points. “So we kept pushing ourselves. We were just determined.”
Mississippi Valley State (17-15) had chances to win the game in regulation and in the first overtime. The Devilettes sent the game into a fourth overtime on Khristina Clemons’ layup just before the buzzer sounded.
Clemons had 26 points and Jasmyne Sanders chipped in 18 for Mississippi Valley State, who were denied their first-ever NCAA tournament berth.
First-year Mississippi Valley State coach Elvis Robinson tried to hold back tears when talking to reporters after the game because he felt bad for the seven seniors on the team.
“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t do for them what I needed to do for them as a coach,” Robinson said.
Williams and Jackson hit two free throws each to give Prairie View an 89-85 lead in the fourth overtime. After Clemons scored the Devilettes’ only points in the final extra period, Jackson hit a jumper off one leg to push the lead to four.
Jackson clinched the game when she drove the length of the floor for a basket, putting the Lady Panthers up 95-87 with 21.3 seconds left. Etienne capped the nearly three-hour game with a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, setting off a celebration near midcourt for the weary Prairie View players and coaches.
Wilson credited her team’s experience in the conference tournament for being able to outlast the Devilettes.
“We know what it takes,” said Wilson, who is 9-0 lifetime in the SWAC tourney. “It was a total team effort. Everybody was tired. We were just able to make plays at the right time.”
Joncyee Sanders’ layup with 45 seconds left in regulation tied the game at 65. The Devilettes had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Clemons lost the ball trying to split two defenders near the basket on Mississippi Valley State’s last possession.
In the first overtime, Alia Frank — who finished with 19 rebounds — missed a desperation jumper for MVSU at the buzzer.
Clemons hit free throws in the second OT to tie the game at 77 with 1:59 left. Scott missed a short jumper at the end of the second overtime, sending the game into another extra period.
Clemons finished off a wild sequence at the end of the third overtime. After two misses, she picked up the rebound and scored just before the buzzer sounded to tie the game at 85.
Prairie View A&M jumped out to a 16-6 lead in the game’s first 8 minutes. Mississippi Valley State rallied and took a 35-33 halftime lead.
The Devilettes pushed their lead to five early in the second half. That was their biggest lead of the game.
Neither team led by more than four in the final 12 minutes of regulation and the first three overtimes. The margin was not any bigger until the Lady Panthers pulled away in the final minute of the game.