The shortest player on the floor ruined Saturday’s Senior Day at Gaither Gym.
Generously listed at 5’5, Katrina Thaxton kept her team in the game early with hot three point shooting, then put the Lady Wildcats ahead for good with clutch late free throws as Bethune-Cookman defeated FAMU 57-53.
The senior point guard from Knoxville, Tenn. finished with a team-high 17 points in pushing Bethune-Cookman to 14-12, 9-9 in conference.
The Lady Wildcats play North Carolina A&T in the first round of the MEAC tournament, and Thaxton said Bethune-Cookman has a good chance to run the table and advance to the NCAAs.
“I’m going to do my best to lead them, since I’m the only senior,” Thaxton said.
Whether diving for loose balls or bouncing FAMU’s post players out of the paint, the Lady Wildcats brought a physical game Saturday.
Center Latonya Reed and power forward Lauren Forsthoff combined for 23 rebounds.
Thaxton said that her teammates lacked that edge earlier in the season.
“It’s coming around in the second half of the season,” Thaxton said. “The first half we were passive and people were banging us around. Now we’re banging them.”
Two free throws by Thaxton at 8:51 put the Lady Wildcats ahead 47-46. Bethune- Cookman never trailed again.
A free throw by Reed at 3:40 staked Bethune-Cookman to its largest lead of the game, 54-48.
Phaedra Mashburn blew past Forsthoff on the baseline for a layup and added a free throw the next trip down to get FAMU close.
Lady Wildcats guard Nikki Mason suffered through a 2 for 12 shooting night, but her jumper from the wing with 1:14 remaining increased Bethune-Cookman’s lead to 56-51, effectively ending FAMU’s chances for a comeback.
Coach Debra Clark said her team was outworked, missed assignments and lacked intensity for 40 minutes, common refrains in a frustrating season.
“They know, they say yes, yes, yes, but they don’t execute,” Clark said.
For Mashburn, Sirelle Wilkerson, and Neisha Cameron, Saturday’s loss ended an up-and-down senior season.
Mashburn, making her 66th and final start for the Rattlerettes, led FAMU with 17 points but struggled with her shooting, hitting 7 of 18 from the floor and 3 of 7 from the line.
Cameron chipped in with a quiet five points and four assists in 36 minutes.
“I’m disappointed. There’s a lot of ‘could’ve, should’ve’ in the locker room,” Cameron said. “I should have shot the ball more in the second half.”
FAMU raced out to a 10-2 lead and appeared poised to blow the Lady Wildcats out of the gym. Thaxton slowed the Rattlerettes’ early surge with a layup and a jumper from the corner.
Bethune-Cookman took its first lead on Thaxton’s three from the corner at 11:23.
Two possessions later, Thaxton picked Tanise Thomas’ pocket and drove the length of the court for a layup, giving the Lady Wildcats a 15-12 lead.
Both teams shot poorly in the first half, with FAMU at 37 percent and Bethune-Cookman at 32 percent.
After trailing most of the first half, the Rattlerettes went up 31-29 on Cameron’s buzzer-beating three pointer from the top of the key.
For the game, FAMU shot 36 percent from the floor and a dismal 43 percent from the line.
Kim Watson and Tanise Thomas chipped in with nine points apiece. Watson added nine boards and three blocks.
The Rattlerettes will play Delaware State Tuesday in the MEAC tournament.