Southland Nicholls Stephen F Austin Basketball

Nicholls center Marina Lilly (40) and guard Cassidy Barrios (20) race to their bench to celebrate their win over Stephen F. Austin at the end of an NCAA college women's basketball game in the Southland Conference tournament championship Sunday, March 11, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke) ORG XMIT: TXMW109

Michael Wyke

KATY, Texas — With confetti falling from the rafters and the Colonel band playing at full blast, the Nicholls State women’s basketball team celebrated an improbable championship.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to a team that was picked to finish ninth in the preseason conference poll.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to a team that entered February on a four-game losing streak with an 8-12 record.

This especially wasn’t supposed to happen to a team that trailed 16-2 after five minutes of the championship game Sunday.

“This team has been so resilient and a bunch of warriors,” Nicholls coach DoBee Plaisance said. “They knew we had to amp it up and amp it up we did.”

No. 4 seed Nicholls shocked No. 2 Stephen F. Austin with a 69-65 victory at the Merrell Center to capture the first Southland Conference tournament championship in school history.

With the win, the Colonels earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Women’s tournament.

Tournament MVP Cassidy Barrios scored 22 points, while Tykeria Williams added 17 as the Colonels outscored SFA 41-25 in the second half.

“We didn’t care that other people said we were picked ninth,” Barrios said. “We knew we were number one and we proved it today.”

The Colonels (19-13) have now won 11 of 12 games, including Saturday’s upset of No. 1 seed Lamar, which was highlighted by a 17-0 third-quarter run.

On Sunday, it was another second-half comeback. Williams hit four 3-pointers in the second half, while Barrios added three from beyond the arc.

Marina Lilly added 12 points and eight rebounds, while Tia Charles had 10 points.

“We knew a lot of people doubted us and we played with a chip on our shoulders” Charles said. “We just knew we had to be poised to win. It is an amazing feeling to get it done.”

SFA (25-6) got off to a 16-2 start with Chanell Hayes hitting two 3-pointers to fuel the early run.

Williams got Nicholls back in the game in the second half with three 3-pointers to draw the Colonels within 50-48. Barrios followed with two 3-pointers of her own to get Nicholls within 55-54 to end the third quarter.

Lilly made a pair of free throws to give Nicholls its first lead — 56-55 — with 8:06 left. A Williams steal and coast-to-coast layup gave the Colonels their largest lead 64-60 with 4:15 left.

Two free throws by Lilly capped an 8-0 Nichols run and a 66-60 advantage.

Riley Harvey scored five straight points to draw SFA within 1 with a minute left, but Airi Hamilton gave the Colonels a three-point lead with 24.5 second left.

Nicholls forced a turnover when SFA could not inbound the ball, and then the Colonels made a free throw and started the celebration.

Plaisance cut the final string off the net and held it in the air as Nicholls fans chanted ‘DoBee, DoBee’ to Queen’s ‘We are the Champions.”

“That moment was so surreal,” Plaisance said. “We knew we had to come in and not just fight the good fight, but we had to battle. It’s a big stage and you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. But at the end of the day, we were warriors.”