Williams rallies Nicholls women past SFA for first NCAA bid

KATY, Texas (AP) — The game started as expected.

The newcomer on the big stage couldn’t hit anything and the team in its 21st Southland Conference title game running away.

That’s not how it ended.

Tykeria Williams scored all 17 of her points in the second half, including the clinching free throw with four seconds left, and Nicholls rallied to shock Stephen F. Austin 69-65 on Sunday for the Colonels’ first Southland Conference Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament berth.

The fourth-seeded Colonels (19-13), who knocked off top-seeded Lamar on Saturday, trailed the second-seeded Ladyjacks (25-6) by 14 just 5½ minutes into the game. They didn’t take their first lead until Marina Lilly made two free throws with 8:06 to play.

Lamar was 17-1 in league play, Stephen F. Austin 16-2 and the Colonels, who never played in the title game before and were picked ninth in the preseason poll, were 11-7.

“This was a complete buy-in from this team,” Nicholls coach DoBee Plaisance said. “They’re my warriors.”

Stevie Parker quickly put SFA back on top but Williams answered with two free throws. The Ladyjacks regained the lead with a Taylor Jackson 3-pointer but Cassidy Barrios, who led Nicholls with 22 points, tied it with two free throws. That started an 8-0 run for a 66-60 lead when Lilly made two foul shots with 3½ minutes to play.

Riley Harvey hit a 3 and followed with a layup as SFA pulled within 66-65 but the Ladyjacks missed two shots and had two turnovers after that.

Tia Charles fed Airi Hamilton for a layup with 29.8 seconds left, making it 68-65. SFA had two good looks at 3s and still had the ball with 4.8 seconds left. However, the Ladyjacks lost the ball on a five-second inbounds violation, allowing Williams to ice the game.

Channel Hayes led SFA with 17 points and Harvey added 16.

Hayes started and ended the game-opening surge with 3-pointers and Imani Johnson also had six points as the Ladyjacks started 5 for 8 and the Colonels 1 of 7. Nichols got as close as eight in the second quarter but another 3 from Hayes put the score 40-28 at the half.

The Colonels made 6 of 7 3s, four from Williams, and were 9 of 12 overall and only trailed 55-54 at the end of the third quarter. After Barrios, the conference player of the year, closed the third with a 3, Lilly gave Nichols its first lead.

SFA, which won 16 league titles, the last coming in 2006, was 4 of 14 in the fourth quarter, including 2 of 9 from 3-point range, did not attempt a free throw and had six of its 16 turnovers. Nichols, which will take a seven-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament, was just 3 of 8 shooting but made 9 of 10 from the line.

With that hot third quarter the Colonels ended up at 51 percent shooting while SFA was at 40 percent.

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