BISMARCK – Jefferson called a timeout upon regaining possession in a hectic exchange of turnovers, and handed the basketball to standout Mackenzie Null during the closing seconds Thursday evening.
The senior guard was bumped near midcourt while looking to dribble end to end, and calmly drained two free throws with 3.6 showing on the clock as the visiting Blue Jays edged Bismarck 58-56.
Null matched teammate Hilah Fish with 14 points each, and Sydney Weik notched 12 as Jefferson (12-8) committed just nine turnovers and avenged a December loss from the Valley Tournament.
Bismarck (5-14) rebounded a missed layup and had an opportunity to hold for the final shot, but saw its leading scorer foul out when junior guard Alyssa Sago was called for an illegal screen with 27.6 left.
After Null missed a subsequent jumper, Savannah Tate missed from the line at the other end to keep the score tied at 56-56. Jefferson then emerged from a wild scramble, and Null delivered the eventual clinching shots.
The Lady Indians designed a final play with 2 seconds to spare, but Null timed the inbounds pass perfectly for a celebratory steal.
Jefferson prevailed despite blowing an early 13-point advantage, and survived a large disparity from the charity stripe. Bismarck struggled to finish 17-of-34 while the Blue Jays converted 9-of-13.
Bismarck squandered a stellar game from junior forward Brilee Henson, who compiled a career-high 27 points and 17 rebounds while repeatedly drawing shooting fouls in the post.
Sago netted 22 points and swished two of her five 3-pointers during a pivotal 11-0 spurt after the Lady Indians trailed 52-43 early in the fourth quarter.
Sago connected from the left wing after Tate and freshman Macy Butery battled defensively to force a jump ball, then put Bismarck ahead 54-52 on two free throws after tracking an offensive rebound.
Null found Weik ahead on a bounce pass in transition before sinking a jumper for a 56-54 Jefferson edge. Butery replied with a tying 16-footer for the Lady Indians 14 seconds later.
Bismarck was ultimately plagued by 22 turnovers and depleted roster depth with starter Madison Dugal no longer on the team. Henson, Tate and Sago played in all 32 minutes of the game.
Jefferson started brilliantly from the perimeter, and capped the first quarter with a 23-10 lead after Fish and Null combined to bury five uncontested 3-pointers.
Henson banked in an awkward leaner to bring Bismarck within 29-22, but Fish answered with her fourth triple and Meaghan Boulicault scored inside for the Blue Jays before halftime.
Jefferson restored a 40-30 margin in the third quarter amid tallying eight team fouls – most of them as Henson overpowered multiple defenders – before the Lady Indians collected their second.
Bismarck will open MAAA Tournament play as the No. 10 seed on Saturday, facing Farmington in the first round at Fredericktown.
Matt King is a sports reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org