By Matthew Speakman / Special to The Tuscaloosa News
Posted Mar 29, 2018 at 8:31 PM
Madonna Thompson entered the locker room to see tears and heads hanging low. Most of the player were in shock. They tried to process what happened, but it's not always easy to process falling short of a goal.
Her team had high expectations. Winning a national championship was the goal all season.
It was two wins away, but No. 20 Trinity Valley ended those dreams with a buzzer-beater in overtime to hand the Shelton State women its only loss of the season in the semifinals the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Women's Basketball Tournament.
"We were all sick to our stomachs," said Thompson, the Lady Bucs coach. 'It was everything you work for, then a last-second shot goes up and that's it."
There was still an opportunity to end the season on a win, however
The Lady Buccaneers were unable to win a national championship, but less than 24 hours after that loss, Shelton State played in a consolation game for third place.
That gave them something to focus on.
"The bottom line was we were going to play, and somebody is going to take third-place trophy and someone is going to take home a fourth-place trophy," Thompson said. "I wasn't taking home a fourth-place trophy."
The players responded.
Shelton State dominated Gulf Coast State, 98-64, to finish the season 36-1. The Bucs took it to Gulf Coast State from the opening tip, and two records were broken by one player in the process.
Guard Cierra Johnson scored 47 points, tournament single-game record that stood since 2003. Johnson also broke the record for most points in a single tournament, which stood since 1992. Johnson had a chip on her shoulder entering the contest.
"I was mad, so I played mad," Johnson said. "It was personal to me. Not only scoring those points but getting that win."
The win and the records brought the team back up.
For starters, the Bucs earned the first No. 1 ranking in school history. It won its third-straight Alabama Community College Conference title. It made a third-straight final four appearance and took home its third-straight third-place trophy.
None of those were forward Maggie Robinson's favorite moment, however. Hers came when she found out her team was for real. A road win against Jones County on Sept. 30 will stick in her head forever.
"You could barely hear your teammate talking to you," Robinson said. "It was that type of intensity and excitement. I've never played in that type of environment."
The win over Jones County, a top-five seed in the NJCAA tournament, and a Dec. 29 win against Gulf Coast State were the main factors in Shelton State taking over the No. 1 ranking.
Shelton State seemed unstoppable after those games, scoring 92.4 points per game and cruising to an undefeated regular season.
Thompson said this season is a success in her mind.
"I'm pleased, and we really did a lot," Thompson said. "To be an Alabama community college and be competing in the final four three years in a row, it's huge."
Like she has done every year, Thompson will lose half of her team and the freshman from this year's team will be the new leaders. Their goal will be to make the next step and win a national championship.
Johnson, who will play at Alabama next season, thinks they can do it.
"I think their team is going to be better than us," Johnson said. "They've know what it takes to get there now."