NORFOLK, Va. – Once the first shot went down, the rest of the first half belonged to Kendra Cooper Monday afternoon as Bethune-Cookman defeated Florida A&M 53-41 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament opening round.
All but one of the sophomore’s 22 points came on a first-half barrage of seven three-pointers that tied the conference single-game record and came one shy of the Bethune-Cookman record of eight shared by Gwen Davis, Carmen Sanders and Keturah Newkirk.
With the victory, Bethune-Cookman (13-16) advances to the quarterfinals, where it will meet North Carolina A&T Thursday at noon.
Cooper was 7-9 from behind the arc in the opening 20 minutes, including two in the final 1:17 that extended Bethune-Cookman’s lead to 30-22 at the break.
“I think the first shot helped me get a little bit of confidence and the team found me,” said Cooper, who also had seven three-pointers against South Carolina State back on December 8. “Once people leave me open, I’m going to make it.”
Bethune-Cookman Head Coach Vanessa Blair-Lewis appreciated Cooper’s effort simply for her progression. At last year’s tournament, Blair noted Cooper “was so nervous, she could never could get into a groove.”
“Even at shoot around today, she wasn’t quite herself,” Blair Lewis said. “ She’s come so far and has become a leader.”
The Rattlers (8-21) put Dawn King as a chaser on Cooper in the second half to contain Cooper, but here’s the deal: Florida A&M couldn’t score, either.
Bethune-Cookman held Florida A&M scoreless the first 10:11 of the second to extend a 30-22 halftime lead to 39-22. The Lady Wildcats led by as many as 21 at 47-26 on two Terrenisha Hollis free throws with 5:42 to play.
“All we wanted to do was come out defensively every time we played them and play our game,” Blair-Lewis. Our biggest goal tonight was to hold them under 40, and we did a great job defensively.”
Most of the Lady Wildcats’ defensive run came with Hollis and MEAC All-First Team selection Kailyn Williams on the bench with four fouls. Hollis played a strong stretch once she got back in, scoring nine of her 11 points.
“I just had to find myself on the defensive end and not foul,” said Hollis. “I had to be a senior and execute to help my team.”
Jasmine Knowles contributed a solid stat line of six points, nine rebounds and five assists while Williams posted five points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots,
Bethune-Cookman never trailed after a 10-0 run gave them an 11-3 lead on a Knowles lay-up with 12:43 remaining. After building their lead to 16-6, the Lady Wildcats fended off a Rattler run that cut it to 24-22 on the strength of Cooper’ three-point shooting.
NOTES: The victory gave Bethune-Cookman both its first victory over Florida A&M in the tournament and marked the first time the Lady Wildcats have beaten the Rattlers three times in a season… Williams now has 127 blocks on the season .. Bethune-Cookman will face North Carolina A&T in the quarterfinals for the second straight year…This was Cooper’s sixth 20-point game of the season …Hollis has been in double figures five straight games and nine of the last 10.