BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — After back-to-back losses to Grambling in the 2017 and 2018 SWAC tournaments, the Southern women’s basketball team found themselves in position for yet another heartbreak.
Grambling’s Camryn London found an open spot for a potential game-winning corner 3 with three seconds to go but Taneara Moore extended her body and swatted away London’s shot for the game-saving block as the Jaguars (19-12, 14-4) hung on for a 71-69 win over Grambling in the 2019 SWAC Tournament semifinals at Bill Harris Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Southern, the reigning two-time regular-season SWAC champions, lost to the Lady Tigers two years ago in the semifinals and last season in the title game, and now have a chance to punch its first ticket to the NCAA tournament since 2010 and fifth overall trip to the big dance.
“I knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle,” said Southern coach Carlos Funchess, who was named SWAC Coach of the Year in his first season with the Jaguars. “Grambling is a championship team and they were going to give us all they had. Your season is on the line right now, but I told our young ladies we had to come out and compete and match their energy.”
Moore’s emphatic last-second block might have been her biggest play of the game but the freshman forward was just as impressive with her glass work, pulling down 14 rebounds to go along with three points and three assists. The Jaguars had a plus-18 rebounding margin due to the efforts of Moore and also scored 21 points off 16 turnovers.
“That was the difference in the ballgame,” Funchess said. “We turned the ball over a little too much but the only way to offset that is our rebounding. We did a great job hitting the boards, especially offensively.”
The Jaguars jumped out to a 12-6 lead early in the first period but Grambling responded with a 9-4 run to cut the lead to one entering the second frame. The Lady Tigers took their only lead of the game on the first basket of the period but Southern retook and re-established its lead with back-to-back 3-pointers from Skylar O’Bear and Alyric Scott.
Despite a short offensive spurt from Grambling near the end of the half, a 7-2 run by Southern gave the Jaguars a 10-point lead at the break.
Grambling was able to tie the game midway through the third period but were unable to overcome three consecutive 3-pointers from Scott, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Joining in on the 3-point barrage in the second half was O’Bear, who had a team-high 17 points to go along with her four rebounds and two assists.
The final made basket from O’Bear extended the lead to five points with 1:49 to play but Grambling’s Shakyla Hill — the 2018-2019 SWAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year, who was also one board shy of a triple-double with 21 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds — hit 4 of 4 free throws and a layup in the final 36 seconds to pull the Lady Tigers to within two points.
Hill found London open in the corner following a missed free throw by Southern, but Moore closed in for the game-saving block. The win exorcises the demons of the past two seasons but senior Rishonti Cowart, who had nine points and six rebounds, says there is no time to relax and embellish the win.
“It means a lot,” Cowart said. “I know last year it was very tough, especially the seniors we had with losing to Grambling the previous year in the semis. It’s very exciting right now but we can’t focus too much on this game. It’s over, we got to go to the next game.”
Southern plays for its fifth tournament title against third-seeded Jackson State in the SWAC Championship Saturday at 1:30 p.m., in Bill Harris Arena.