HOUSTON — With her team already limited to eight players because of suspensions, Southern captain Kendra Coleman was forced to watch a good chunk of the first half from the bench with two early fouls.
The Southern senior sure made up for it in the game’s final minute Wednesday at the Toyota Center.
Coleman led the Jaguars on an 11-1 run to overcome a five-point deficit in the final 55 seconds and advance to the semifinals of the Southwestern Athletic Conference women’s basketball tournament with a 62-57 win over Mississippi Valley State.
Coleman hit 16 straight free throws, including the game-tying and winning points with 29 second left, and finished with a game-high 22 points.
“When we went down five points with less than two minutes to go, they kind of dropped their heads a bit,” Southern coach Sandy Pugh said.
“At that point, I went to Kendra and I said, ‘This is your time. This is what you do.’ Whether we win or lose, we are going to do it with the ball in her hands.”
Coleman hit two key jumpers and sank six free throws in the final three minutes.
“I had a slow start, and I had to sit on the bench next to coach hearing her talk,” Coleman joked. “I just stayed focused and was ready to get back out there when she called me.
“Knowing that I’m a senior and this is my last go-round, I had to have the ball in my hands in the end.”
Southern (18-11, 16-3) trailed 54-49 with 2:06 left, but two jumpers by Coleman and a 3-pointer by Britney Washington tied the game at 56.
Valley went back up 57-56, but two more free throws by Coleman with 29 seconds left gave Southern just its second lead of the game against No. 8 Valley.
A steal by Quitesha Scott and two more foul shots by Briana Green put the Jaguars up 60-57. Coleman put the final icing on with two more free throws in the final seconds.
“We showed we had character,” Pugh said. “Down 5, who in the building gave us a chance? Nobody but us.”
Washington finished with 15 points, while Cortnei Purnell scored 14 for the Jaguars, who are not eligible to play in the NCAA tournament.
“There’s no quit in us,” Washington said. “For some strange reason, we didn’t want to play until the second half, but we came back and pulled it out.”
The Jaguars had to play without starter Jasmine Jefferson, as well as several key reserves, who were suspended after a benches-clearing brawl with Texas Southern on March 7.
On Wednesday, Pugh was forced to use all eight players she had available when Coleman picked up her second foul less than four minutes into the game.
“If this is building character, I don’t think I like that lesson,” Pugh said. “I’m just proud that I’m able to coach them.”
Valley (4-26, 2-17) was led by Ashley Beals, who scored 18 points, but fouled out in the game’s final minute.
“Southern came out - like champions do - and they found a way to steal the game,” Valley coach Elvis Robinson said. “We are a young team and we need to find ways to finish ball games.”
Southern will advance to play the winner of Thursday’s game between No. 4 Prairie View and No. 5 Alcorn at 6 p.m. Friday.
“We need to get back to what we do,” Pugh said. “I’m just excited to have our full complement back and we can just get back to basketball.
“Prior to this, we were playing really well - our timing, our intensity and our focus. With this little hiccup behind us, we are going to come in and be ready go.”