Photo: Jalexis Russell scored 32 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Gadsden State’s 98-67 victory over Coastal Alabama South last Tuesday (March 3) in the quarterfinal round of the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament at Shelton State in Tuscaloosa. (Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
It was obvious last Tuesday (March 3) that Jalexis Russell did not want her junior college career to end in the conference tournament quarterfinals.
The Gadsden State sophomore forward scored 32 points – including 27 in the second half – to spark the Lady Cardinals to a 98-67 victory over Coastal Alabama South in the opening round of the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament at Shelton State in Tuscaloosa.
Gadsden State faced top-seed Shelton state in the semifinals on Thursday, March. 5. Results were unavailable at press time.
Russell also had 11 rebounds, five steals and three blocks. She shot 71 percent (5-for-7) from three-point range.
“Jalexis really turned it up in the second half,” said GSCC head coach Bryan Phillips. “When she’s on, she’s on, and she helped us out tremendously, both athletically and shooting the ball. She’s a leader, and the rest of the team followed.”
The game’s turning point came early in the second half, when in a span of five minutes Gadsden State extended an eight-point halftime lead to 20 points. The Lady Cardinals forced turnovers off the Lady Sun Chiefs’ first four possessions of the second half and turned every one of those miscues into points. Russell scored 13 of Gadsden State’s 27 third-quarter points to help the Lady Cardinals enter the fourth quarter ahead 67-31.
“Me being a leader, I knew I had to step up and score and get rebounds,” said Russell, who recently signed with Murray State. “One I’m hot, everybody gets hot, and we all were on the same page. We didn’t fly around as much in the first half, and we knew that we had to have a strong third quarter. We could tell that [Coastal Alabama] was getting tired, so once we had the momentum, we knew we had to keep it going.”
Coastal Alabama never drew closer than 17 points over the final 10 minutes, allowing Phillips to clear his bench in preparation for the Lady Bucs on Thursday.
“We were kind of floating back in the zone press in the first half, so I told our girls at halftime that if they turned up the pressure in the front court and trapped like they were supposed to, [Coastal Alabama] would turn the ball over,” said Phillips. “[Coastal Alabama] likes playing a slower game and doesn’t like getting up and down the floor, and I knew if we could get flying around, they’d be gassed. You get open shots when teams get tired, and that’s pretty much what happened in the second half.”
Jesse Ralston added 20 points for Gadsden State, including five 3-point baskets. Vanessa Carter finished with 15 points, followed by Dalayiah Crawford with eight and Deyana Dodd with seven.
Carter pulled down eight rebounds, while Sydney Prater cleared six. Dodd and Jaquaya Turner each had four assists.
With the help of eight points from Carter, Gadsden State emerged from the first quarter with a 17-16 advantage. Ralston’s jump shot at 3:20 of the second period provided the Lady Cardinals with their first double-digit lead of the game at 34-24. Kynadra Lewis’ layup in the final seconds of the first half drew Coastal within 40-32 at halftime.
Since the Lady Cardinals lost to Shelton State twice this season by an average of 45 points,
Phillips is devising ways to neutralize the Lady Bucs’ potent fast-break offense.
“We’re going to have to slow them down some, because they’ll want to play a really fast game. We’ve got to limit them to one shot [per possession]; we can’t afford to give them second-chance points. The first time we played them at home (in a 99-67 loss on Jan. 7), we were down only eight or nine points at halftime, so if we can keep it close during the first half, we can stay in the game and potentially win. If we can string four strong quarters together, we’re a dangerous team and we can play with [Shelton].”