Feb. 5, 2014
NEW ORLEANS - For 39 minutes and 56 seconds, it appeared as if the Tulane University women's basketball team was headed for a second straight defeat. An offensive rebound by junior wing Adesuwa Ebomwonyi, a quick pass by freshman guard Leslie Vorpahl and a layup by junior forward Tiffany Dale with 4.0 seconds remaining, however, erased a game's worth of frustration as the Green Wave rallied to defeat Conference USA newcomer North Texas, 56-55, on Wednesday evening in Devlin Fieldhouse.
The Green Wave trailed by as many as 20 on four occasions in the first half and were down by 11 at 51-40 with 5:52 left to play. From there, Tulane used a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to four only to see North Texas' Laura McCoy drain a 3-pointer with 2:50 on the clock to make it 54-47. The Green Wave allowed just one free throw the rest of the way and outscored Mean Green 9-1 over the final four-plus minutes to complete the comeback.
All told, Tulane led for just one minute and 10 seconds, and Dale's last-second bucket gave the Green Wave their only lead of the second half and the team's first since taking a 6-5 advantage at the 16:27 mark of the opening stanza. With the win, the Green Wave improved to 16-6 on the year and 7-2 in C-USA action. North Texas, meanwhile, fell to 9-13 overall and 3-6 in league play.
"Honestly, nothing went well (in the first half)," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "I don't know which was worse, our defense or our offense. I thought we were tremendously flat on offense. We just couldn't make a shot. One thing we've talked about all year, and I think our team has done well, is that we can pick it up on defense if we're not shooting well and create some things. That's what happened in the second half.
"In the second half, we came out, got some steals and created more with our defense. We really held them in the first five minutes of the second half and got some momentum. Our goal was to cut it down bit by bit until the media timeouts and not try to catch-up by 20 - just cut it down. I felt when it got within four, our players could relax a little bit and be a little more patient on offense."
Freshman guard Courtnie Latham came off the bench to lead the Green Wave with a career-high 12 points to go with a team-best four steals. Kaplan was next for Tulane offensively with 10 points, followed by Dale and Vorpahl with nine apiece. Vorpahl paced the squad with a game-high five assists, Ebomwonyi led Tulane with 10 rebounds and Dale blocked a pair of shots.
As a team, the Green Wave shot 32.8 percent from the field (22-of-67), but held a 41-37 advantage in rebounds and turned 24 offensive boards into 25 second-chance points. After allowing North Texas to connect at a .630 clip in the first half (17-fo-27), the Tulane defense limited the Mean Green to a .231 mark (6-of-26) and just 16 points after halftime. In addition, Tulane forced 23 North Texas turnovers, including a season-high 18 via steal.
"I think it was a different mindset in the second half," Stockton said of her team's comeback. "I felt that the team was so disappointed in the way they played in the first half they came out focused. Courtnie really set a tone for us. We started her the second half and I thought she was really aggressive in attacking. That is was it takes. It just takes a couple of players to set that tone. She did that and our players really followed. We got those steals and were able to press and get something out of it."
The Green Wave scored the game's opening basket on a Kaplan 3-pointer and held a one-point lead at 6-5 when Dale connected on a layup plus an and-one free throw 3:33 into the game. From there, North Texas went on a 28-7 run over the next 12:21 and went into the locker room at the break on top, 39-21.
Tulane opened the second half with a 5-0 run and later whittled the Mean Green lead down to six at 44-38 with 8:04 left in regulation. North Texas responded with a layup by Candice Adams and a 3-pointer by McCoy to go up 49-38 and held a 51-40 lead two possessions later.
Undaunted, Tulane continued to chip away at the deficit and got it down to one at 54-53 with 33 seconds to play. Adams made 1-of-2 free throws during the Mean Green's ensuing possession to stake her team to a 55-53 lead, but that would be North Texas' final point of the night.
Tulane missed a chance to take the lead when Kaplan's layup attempt was off the mark, but the Green Wave maintained possession with an offensive rebound and had a chance to tie things up as Vorpahl was fouled and sent to the free throw line. After making her first attempt, Vorpahl's second effort bounced high off the iron where Ebomwonyi was able to corral the ball and make an outlet pass to Vorpahl at the right elbow. The rookie guard then re-directed the ball to a wide open Dale under the glass to send the crowd home happy.
"We work a lot in practice on the rebounding and focused on our screens," Dale said. "Getting that rebound put us at an advantage to try and win the game at the end. Coming down we tried to execute the play. Leslie got fouled which was awesome. She made her first free throw then she definitely tried to make her second. Even though she missed it, we got the rebound and (Vorpahl) had a great vision for me to put in the winning shot."
Acheil Tac posted a double-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds to lead all players in both categories, and Briesha Wynn tallied a double-double of her own with 12 points and 10 boards. Wynn, McCoy and Janis Peterson had four assists each, Tac led the defense with two blocked shots, and both Wynn and McCoy had three steals.
Tulane returns to action on Saturday, Feb. 8, when the Green Wave travel to San Antonio, Texas, to take on the Roadrunners of UTSA at 4 p.m. The game at UTSA is the first of two-straight road games as Tulane will play at FAU on Feb. 12 before returning home to take on FIU on Saturday, Feb. 15.
For tickets to that game, as well as future Green Wave Athletics events, contact the Tulane Ticket Office. The ticket office is located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson Jr. Center, and fans can also order tickets on-line at www.TulaneGreenWave.com or by calling (504) 861-WAVE (9283).