ST. THOMAS — University of the Virgin Islands women’s basketball coach Niki Collins finally decided to play some of her more experienced players.
That led to the Buccaneers pulling out a 68-67 victory over Huston-Tillotson University on Friday in the final day of the UVI HBCU Basketball Classic tournament at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.
Collins, UVI’s first-year coach, opted to start guards Melea Lovelace, a junior transfer from Kaskaskia College in Illinois; and Amber Appiah-Kubi, a graduate student transfer from Tennessee State.
Between the two of them, Lovelace and Appiah-Kubi had played just one half of one game for the Buccaneers (4-1) — and that was all Lovelace.
But their experience came up big for UVI in Friday’s win. Appiah-Kubi had 16 points, as did sophomore guard Kierra Neal, with Lovelace adding 14 points.
“I knew Huston-Tillotson was a tough team, and they have strong guards,” Collins said. “In order for us to compete with them and win that game, we needed experience on the floor. So I made a game-time decision to start them both. It was a great decision to make.”
Ilana Sanford led the Lady Rams (0-4) with a game-high 17 points. Mycah McDonald added 15 points and Jordan Sanders had 11 points off the bench.
Aided by a strong start from Appiah-Kubi and Lovelace, the Buccaneers bounced out to a 12-0 lead in the opening minutes of the first quarter, and led by as many as 15 points midway through the second.
However, Huston-Tillotson got its act together in the closing stages of the second quarter, pulling within 33-28 at the half and taking a 48-47 lead at the end of the third quarter on Sanders’ 3-pointer with a second remaining.
That set up a fourth quarter in which the sides swapped the lead 13 times and tied the game once — and nearly had a second tie.
That 13th and final lead change came at the 3 minute, 35 second mark, when Neal made a short jumper that put UVI ahead 63-62 — a margin that would go to 66-62 just 43 seconds later when Lovelace made three free throws.
The Rams stayed in it, however, and pulled within 67-66 on a pair of free throws by Sanford with 1:15 left, but Kaeani Berry made a free throw with 43 seconds left to put the score at 68-66.
Huston-Tillotson had a chance to tie the game with three seconds left, when Irish Winn was fouled trying a layup. She made the first free throw — but missed the second, with Berry pulling down the rebound and running out the clock.
Amber Appiah-Kubi, University of the Virgin Islands: The 5-foot-7 guard, whose last game action came with Tennessee State during the 2020-2021 season, showed just a little rust in Friday’s win. But she still made 6 of 13 from the field (3 of 7 on 3-pointers) and 1 of 2 free throws. She also had five rebounds, five assists and two blocks.
Melea Lovelace, University of the Virgin Islands: The 5-6 guard also had a big night after a scoreless half Thursday in a loss to Wilberforce University. Against the Rams, she made 3 of 6 from the field (3 of 4 on 3-pointers) and 5 for 5 from the free throw line. She also had six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
Ilana Sanford, Huston-Tillotson University: The Rams’ point guard didn’t have that great of a shooting game — 6 of 22 from the field, 2 of 9 on 3-pointers, but 3 for 3 from the free throw line. But she also had eight rebounds, eight assists and five steals.
• UVI had one of its best shooting games this season, making 24 of 43 from the field (55.8%), including 7 of 14 3-pointers, and 13 of 16 free throws. A big reason for that was Appiah-Kubi and Lovelace, who combined made 9 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 3-pointers, and 6 of 7 free throws.
• Meanwhile, Huston-Tillotson didn’t shoot that well — 25 of 97 (25.8%) from the field, and 7 of 38 on 3-pointers — but the Rams had more opportunities thanks to the Buccaneers’ turnover problems. UVI made 36 turnovers Friday, allowing H-T to score 28 points.
• The addition of Appiah-Kubi and Lovelace to the lineup helped make up for an off night from UVI’s 6-1 junior center Kaeani Berry. Berry had double-doubles in the Buccaneers’ last three games, but she was held to seven points and seven rebounds Friday.
UVI gets a little time off before hitting the road for three games in as many days in mid-November. The Buccaneers have a rematch against Wilberforce University on Nov. 18-19, then take on NCAA Division II program Central State University on Nov. 20.
All three games will be played at the Beacom-Lewis Gymnasium in Wilberforce, Ohio. Starting times for both games against Wilberforce are 6 p.m. Atlantic, with the Central State game at 3 p.m. Atlantic.