Mbandu lifts Lady Commodores to crucial Panhandle win

By Dustin Kent
PANAMA CITY — Wednesday night’s home contest against Pensacola State wasn’t technically a must-win game for Gulf Coast, at least not mathematically.

Still, it was a game the Lady Commodores could ill afford to lose in their quest to make it to the state tournament.

Fortunately for No. 8 Gulf Coast, sophomore forward Naomi Mbandu had no intentions of letting her team lose.

Mbandu made seven 3-pointers en route to a game-high 31 points as Gulf Coast (19-4 overall, 6-4 in the Panhandle Conference) routed the Pirates 96-57 to snap a two-game losing skid.

With the win, Gulf Coast moved into a tie for second place with Chipola (21-5, 6-4), which fell 67-64 to No. 5 Northwest Florida State (22-4, 7-3) on Wednesday night.

It was a much-needed performance for a team that has looked more vulnerable than ever of late due to injuries and inconsistency.

“We executed and played Gulf Coast basketball, defended and executed offensively,” Gulf Coast coach Roonie Scovel said. “There weren’t many bad plays where we just got off on our own. When you’re able to execute and buy in to what’s going on, good things happen.”

Mbandu made 11 of 16 shots from the field and 7 of 10 from the 3-point lie for her 31 points, while D’Asia Gregg added 26 points, seven rebounds, and three assists, making 4 of 6 from the three as well.

Gulf Coast made 14 of 22 from deep overall after going just 8 of 48 from the 3-point line in the last two losses.

“We shot the ball really well tonight, and then we have other nights where we’re like 11 percent or 17 percent,” Scovel said. “Not doing it consistently is why we’re in this situation, but we’re tied (with Chipola) ... so that game at Chipola will be a very defining game.”

Mbandu wasted no time getting Gulf Coast off to a fast start Wednesday, making a corner 3-pointer and scoring on a transition layup after a turnover just 65 seconds into the game.

A 3-pointer from Gregg and a nice spin move out of the post for two by Tatiana Jones made it 10-2 with 7:41 left in the first quarter.

Pensacola State rallied back to cut the deficit to four at 21-17 on an offensive rebound and putback by ZaMaria Polk in the waning seconds of the first quarter.

From that point on, it was all Lady Commodores. Mbandu started the second quarter with three straight 3-pointers to push the lead to 12, then scored on a reverse layup on a backdoor cut, and connected on her fourth triple of the quarter from the left corner to make it 37-20 with 3:46 on the clock.

Ahlana Smith, in her return to action following an injury she suffered against Tallahassee on Feb. 5, hit a three of her own from the left corner, with a putback by Gregg and a tough driving layup by Lya Farcy at the first half buzzer putting the Lady Commodores up 46-24 at the break.

The onslaught continued in the third quarter as Smith started to find her rhythm, hitting a pair of pull-up jumpers and another three to make it 61-34.

Mbandu then followed with an offensive putback, another 3-pointer, and two free throws, with a basket by Gregg and a steal and layup by Farcy putting Gulf Coast up 72-34 with 1:18 left in the third.

Farcy finished with seven points and seven assists to just one turnover, while Jones had 12 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and two blocked shots.

Smith scored 12 points along with five rebounds and four assists. Polk and Lenaijha Evans led Pensacola State with 11 points each.

Gulf Coast will be off on Saturday before returning to action Feb. 19 against Chipola in Marianna.

Pensacola State (14-13, 2-7) will be home Saturday for Chipola.



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