‘Big 3’ comes up big for Hornets in home finale



Hornet senior guard Jayla Crawford manuevers her way into the paint and pulls up for a heavily contested jumper at the top of the key in the Hornets’ big win over the Alabama A & M Bulldogs.

Kendal Manns, Editor-in-Chief

In the final home game of the Alabama State University women’s basketball team’s season, the Hornets pulled out the 69-57 win over longtime rival the Bulldogs of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, courtesy of standout performance by their “big three.”
Seniors Ayana Emmanuel, Jayla Crawford and Shmya Ward have all played five seasons for the Hornets, growing and developing together to be one of the best trios and individual players in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).
Both teams went into this game tied neck and neck for the second seed in the SWAC, while also being on their own winning streaks, with five (Hornets) and three (Bulldogs) respectively. As they have done so many times before, both teams traded baskets back and forth to start the first quarter.
With the Hornets struggling early to get their offense in a rhythm, junior guard DaKiyah Sanders came off the bench and provided them stability and instant offense. Sanders scored eight quick points, giving the Hornets their first lead of the game in a 14-11 score. Freshman guard Kristian Jackson also provided the Hornets scoring off the bench, hitting a big three-pointer off the assist from Crawford to end the quarter on an 8-0 lead.
The second quarter was more of the same, as the Hornets continued to string together scoring possessions to go up by as much as 18 points. The energy of the near packed crowd in the Dunn-Oliver Acadome rose with every Hornet basket. The Hornets dictated the pace and played suffocating defense on the Bulldogs in a great display of teamwork. The Hornets went into halftime with a 41-25 lead.
Offensive struggles were the theme of the third quarter as neither team could buy a basket. The Bulldogs turned up the intensity on defense causing the Hornets to make mistakes and take their foot off the gas. The Bulldogs offense still struggled to put up points on their end. Although the Bulldogs held the Hornets to nine points in the quarter, they also only scored nine points as the Hornets went into the final quarter maintaining a 16-point lead.
The Bulldogs started walking the Hornets down and slowly cutting away at the deficit. They turned the Hornets momentum on its head and started taking the air out of the arena. They forced turnovers, limiting the Hornets to one possession and scored on the other end. A fastbreak layup by Bulldog guard Toni Grace cut the deficit to single digits for the first time since the first quarter with 4:31 left to go.
Just when it appeared the Hornets would give the game away, they made the big plays when they needed to. Emmanuel swished a three-point shot and penetrated the paint for a tough layup to give the Hornets a double-digit cushion at the halfway mark.
She took over the latter part of the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her 15 total points in the final four minutes. The Hornets maintained their double-digit lead for the final margin.
Ward led both teams in scoring with 17 points. She locked in on the defensive side of the ball as well, recording six rebounds (five of which were defensive), two steals and a block. Crawford finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and three assists, despite being in foul trouble for most of the game. Sanders had 11 points, two assists and two steals off the bench. Her contributions helped the Hornets win the bench points battle 20-12.
Forward Amani Free was the lone double-digit scorer for the Bulldogs, putting up 16 points, three rebounds and two assists in her game-high 36 minutes of action.
The Hornets finish their season with a two-game road trip to Lousinana before the SWAC Tournament on March 8. They will have to win out to secure their top-two seeding in the conference with Alabama A&M still right on their heels.
The Hornets travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to play the Southern University Jaguars March 2 for their next contest, at 3 p.m.