By: Cory Hogue, LoneStarSportsDaily.com
Tears streamed down Midwestern State coach Christopher Reay’s face as he was embraced at midcourt following a near improbable win.
His Mustangs entered the contest with only nine active players due to injuries to five players including senior mainstays Hannah Reynolds and Kityana Diaz. The Mustangs injury woes mounted during the game with two players exiting the floor with ankle injuries.
Added to the long odds for MSU was an opponent, Texas A&M-Commerce, who used its style of relentless full-court defensive pressure to build a 15-point lead late in the third quarter and led by 10 points with 5:48 remaining in the contest.
Exactly how did the Mustangs rally to defeat the Lions 85-82 and secure its second upset over a top Lone Star Conference team inside D.L. Ligon Coliseum in the last eight days?
“We drew up a different press break and we were able to get some layups over the top of their defense and the girls buckled down and got stops on the defensive end,” Reay said. “We knew being down to only nine on the roster we’d be ok, but being down to only seven players was something I’d never experience before.”
Watching their teammate, Markayla Johnson, remain on the floor clutching her ankle after running into a screen on the final play of the first half provided the Mustangs some added motivation which counterbalanced the momentum the Lions gained from the near half-court bank shot as time expired.
“We took it personally when our players went down,” Shawnisay Millar said. “Especially with Markayla because she just came back after being out with a broken finger. This was her first game back and we were happy to see her back on the floor and she was contributing well.
“When she went down, we took that to heart because that wasn’t ok. We knew we had to flip the game around and we knew we could get the W.”
The junior forward from Prestonpans, Scotland knew she needed to fill a void for the Mustangs after sophomore forward Mandy Withey departed with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
“When Mandy went down we knew we had to keep pushing and be smart with our fouls,” Millar said. “Mandy is super athletic and when she went down I was super worried because some of these girls are bigger than me and I knew I needed to step it up.”
Step it up she did scoring 10 of her 18 points in a fourth quarter that saw the Mustangs outscore the Lions 26-11 to complete the incredible comeback.
“When she gets her mind set on getting to the rim she’s a tough player to stop,” Reay said.
While in-game adjustments made by Reay and the coaching staff played a huge role, something else seemed to assist the Mustangs in the final five minutes.
“It’s Dome Magic,” Reay said. It’s written on the walls and it’s hard to explain. I’ve been here as a player and experienced so many great games and heard all the stories about the 30-40 years before I got here of how special this place is.
“Part of (Dome Magic) is our fans – our fans were incredible. They never quit on us and cheered us on all the way to victory. It was awesome.”
But it still seemed as if something more was guiding the Mustangs during their comeback beyond adjustments and Dome Magic, something saintly.
MSU has a new angel watching over them this season and the presence of coach Noel Johnson cannot be denied.
“She’s irreplaceable,” Reay said. “We talk about her every day, we break all of our huddles with ‘NJ 23’ and she will be with us forever. We love her and miss her terribly.”
“This is our court,” Millar added. “We play for Coach J every single day and when people come into Coach J’s court we aren’t going to let them disrespect us. We play for Coach J every day and we play strong for her. She’s always with us.”
Those in attendance on Sunday afternoon could sense the large smile Coach J has on her face after watching her players and coaches celebrate another “miracle” victory.