Vining's 3-Pointer Puts Suns in Region Final

Jenny Vining made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 10.5 seconds remaining to give the nationally fourth-ranked Arkansas Tech Golden Suns a 69-68 win over the nationally 17th-ranked Tampa Spartans in the semifinals of the women’s NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional at Tucker Coliseum on Sunday afternoon.

The winning play was set up when two Tampa defenders got caught in an Arkansas Tech screen at the top of the key. That left Vining all alone, and she drained her sixth 3-pointer of the day to put the Suns in front 69-68.

Following a timeout by both teams, Catriana Messina brought the ball into the frontcourt for the Spartans’ final possession.

Messina got to the right baseline, wheeled and threw the ball back out to Taja Green at the 3-point arc. Green, who was 5-of-6 from 3-point range in the game, was open on the right wing when she received the pass.

The only problem for Tampa was that time expired before Green could get off a shot, and 2,275 Tech fans erupted in joy.

The fourth-seeded Spartans led for almost the entire first half. Top-seeded Tech forged the first tie of the day on Natalia Santos’ baseline jumper with 9.2 seconds left in the half. The two sides went to the intermission tied 26-26.

The Suns (30-2), who outscored Tampa 7-0 over the final 2:03 of the first half, carried that momentum over to the second half. By the time it was over, Tech’s run was 22-4 and the Suns held a 41-30 lead with 16:05 remaining.

Green got the Spartans (26-5) back in it with back-to-back 3-pointers. Tampa’s Tiara Cook followed with consecutive baskets, and in a matter of less than two minutes the Spartans trimmed the Suns’ advantage to 41-40 with 13:37 to go.

It was tight the rest of the way. Tampa took its first lead of the second half at 65-64 on a Kamari Smith put-back with 1:46 remaining.

Jessica Weatherford made two free throws for Arkansas Tech, but Messina answered with two charity tosses for the Spartans with 40.8 seconds left. Tampa led 67-66.

Messina was fouled again with 24 seconds left, but made just 1-of-2 free throws on that occasion.

That set the stage for Vining’s heroics as Arkansas Tech landed a spot in the NCAA Division II South Region championship game for the fourth time (1998, 1999, 2003 and 2010).

Weatherford led Tech with 24 points. She also grabbed eight rebounds. Vining had 20 points, four assists and three steals.

Natalia Santos added 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Golden Suns, who clinched the seventh 30-win season in their 33-year history with the win.

Green paced Tampa with 24 points.

Arkansas Tech advances to face Delta State in the NCAA South Region championship game at 6 p.m. Tuesday.