And what a basketball game it was for the third-ranked Buccaneers.
Blinn rode the momentum of a 28-point first quarter and its strong defense into the quarterfinals of the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship tournament Friday, defeating North Dakota State College of Science 80-63 in a second-round tilt at the Rip Griffin Center in Lubbock, Texas.
The victory provided a measure of redemption for the fifth-seeded Buccaneers, seven of whom were in Lubbock one season ago for Blinn’s tournament-opening loss to Jones College in the second round of nationals.
“It was a really long year,” Blinn head coach Jeff Jenkins said. “I’m glad these sophomores were able to get a win at the national tournament. It’s hard to come in here after 13 days off and play your best basketball. It wasn’t pretty today, but we played hard, I thought we cared, and I thought we competed.”
(Pictured: Blinn College head women’s basketball coach Jeff Jenkins speaks to his team during a game against North Dakota State College of Science on March 24)
The victory was especially meaningful for the career of Jenkins, who earned his 50oth career win. Jenkins is in his 21st year with Blinn, his 24th season overall, and holds a career mark of 500-260.
“Twenty-four years ago, 500 wins isn’t something you think about,” Jenkins said. “I’ve had a lot of great players, a lot of really good assistant coaches, and really good administration that always supports us. We always play a tough non-conference schedule, and we play in a tough region, so this is definitely something I’m proud of. I’m just glad it happened with this group. These players have won 59 games in two years, they helped me get to 500, and I’d do anything for 501.”
Blinn (31-3) looked ready to take on all challengers Friday as it built a 28-9 lead over the 21st-seeded Wildcats in the first quarter.
With the game tied 5-5, the Bucs seized control when sophomore guard Crystal Smith ignited a 10-0 run with a single free throw. She added a jumper moments later, and sophomore guard Skylar Barnes followed with a 3-pointer. Sophomore guard Allana Thompson and sophomore guard Hannah Humphrey converted a layup and a floater, respectively, to make it 15-5 at the 5:12 mark of the quarter.
Sophomore guard Jakoriah Long – who tallied a team-high 17 points – put together a six-point stretch to begin the second period. She sank a 3, hit a free throw, and scored on a layup as Blinn’s cushion swelled to 34-9.
The Wildcats battled back late in the first half, but the Bucs carried a 43-23 edge into halftime.
Long began the third quarter the same way she opened the second, drilling a triple get Blinn going once again. She hit another 3 later in the period to make it 54-29.
“I can speak for all of our sophomores when I say that we were just hungry for this win,” Long said. “We had to come in and compete. We had to rebound and focus on certain things we knew we had to go out there and do, and it was just a good game. We could have played better, and I think we will, but it’s a win.”
Blinn took a 64-43 lead into the fourth quarter, where the Wildcats found some offensive momentum to the tune of a late 15-3 run, but sophomore guard Makayla Patterson pumped the brakes on NDSCS’ surge with a pair of free throws and a 3 in the final two minutes.
The Bucs finished with five scorers in double digits. Behind Long, Barnes finished with 14 points, Humphrey tallied 12, and Patterson and sophomore forward Tiffany Tullis posted 11 apiece. Tullis also had 20 rebounds for a double-double.
(Pictured: Blinn sophomore forward Tiffany Tullis, 1, scores on a layup during a game against North Dakota State College of Science on March 24)
“Everybody on this team is a scorer,” Tullis said. “Having everybody contribute and do well knowing that we lost the first game on this court last year, it felt great.”
The Buccaneers will continue their tournament run against fourth-seeded College of Southern Idaho in a battle of top-five seeds at 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 25.
“This group is special, and I just wanted one more game with them,” Jenkins added. “Now we get one more.”
Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 42 NJCAA national championships since 1987.