March 5, 2014
NEW ORLEANS - It was a case of good news/bad news for the Tulane University women's basketball team left the court on Wednesday evening following it's regular-season finale against Conference USA newcomer and 22nd-ranked Middle Tennessee.
When the final horn sounded to mark the end of the Green Wave's showdown with a Blue Raiders' team that had already locked up the 2013-14 C-USA title, Tulane (20-9, 11-5) found itself on the wrong end of a 64-52 score which gave the team its first loss in a home finale since 1993. Midway through the second half, however, the Wave received word that Old Dominion had defeated East Carolina, 87-78, in Norfolk, Va., and that allowed Tulane to clinch the No. 4 seed in the upcoming C-USA Women's Basketball Championship.
"I certainly think it is an advantage but whatever we needed to do, we were ready," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "It is nice to be able to watch the tournament and our opponents. We are going to be able to watch [potential quarterfinal's opponent East Carolina] live, and that is always good. It is good to take a little pressure off of us these first two rounds. By the time we play there are a lot of teams that have already gone home. This is a great opportunity and this is a great conference. We finished in the top four. Anything can happen. We just need to put three good games together and I think this team has the potential to put those games together."
Junior guard Danielle Blagg led the Green Wave with 18 points after sinking 8-of-14 shots from the field, including a 2-of-3 performance from beyond the 3-point arc. Sophomore center Chinwe Duru was next on the team offensively with 10 points to go with six rebounds and blocked shot.
Junior forward Tiffany Dale paced the squad with seven rebounds and a career-high six blocked shots. Junior point guard Jamie Kaplan, meanwhile, handed out a game-best 10 assists to mark her sixth double-digit dime effort of the 2013-14 season.
Tulane shot 39.3 percent from the field (22-of-56) against Middle Tennessee and held the Blue Raiders to a .322 clip for the game (19-of-59), including an 8-for-33 showing in the second half (.242). The difference in the contest came at the free throw line, where Middle Tennessee was 19-for-21 while the Green Wave went 5-of-7. The Green Wave were also out-rebounded, 41-35, and despite giving up 21 offensive boards Tulane actually held a 14-13 edge in second-chance points.
"I thought the team was excited for the game," Stockton said. "It was a great opportunity for us and we certainly knew that a double-bye was at stake. We felt that this was a team that if we want to win the conference tournament, we are going to have to go through again. The stats that made the difference were their free throws and their rebounding. Those two were clearly different. We got seven free throws for the game and they got 21. That is a pretty big disparity to overcome."
Tulane got off to a good start, scoring the first four points of the contest and holding Middle Tennessee scoreless for over four and a half minutes. The Green Wave led by as many as five at 9-4 with 12:46 to play in the opening half before Middle Tennessee used an 11-2 run over the next 3:05 to take a 15-11 lead it would not relinquish. The Blue Raiders' advantage swelled to as many as 10 twice in the first half, but Tulane scored five of the final eight points of the period to go into the locker room down, 36-28.
The deficit fluctuated between six and 10 points over the first 12 minutes of the second half. Following a Blagg jumper with 8:02 left play and make it a nine-point affair at 52-43, Middle Tennessee quieted any talks of a Green Wave comeback as Ebony Rowe sank a layup, Janay Brinkley drilled a 3-pointer and Olvia Jones hit1-of-2 free throws over the next 2:13 to stretch the lead to 15.
Tulane answered with a 7-0 run courtesy of a three-point play by Dale and consecutive layups by junior wing Adesuwa Ebomwonyi to make it 58-50 with 1:38 left on the clock, but the Blue Raiders all six of their free throw opportunities down the stretch to keep the Green Wave at bay.
"A loss is never easy to take," Blagg added. "I think we finished out well, not that it was our goal. Our goal was to win the league. Give a lot of credit to Middle Tennessee because they deserve to be there. We are a little disappointed, but we are okay with where we are at. I think it is a big advantage with two byes. Getting to watch the teams and getting to scout them is a huge advantage."
Rowe led Middle Tennessee with game-high totals of 24 points and 14 rebounds while leading the Blue Raiders with three assists and sharing team-high steal honors with Shanice Cason at two thefts apiece. Caroline Warden and KeKe Stewart also posted-figure offensive totals for the Blue Raiders with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
The 2014 C-USA Championship will begin on Tuesday, March 11, and Tulane's first game in the tournament will be on Thursday, March 13, at 2:30 p.m. (CST) in El Paso, Texas. The five-day event will conclude on Saturday, March 15, with the title game, which is slated for 7 p.m. The winner of the C-USA Championship will receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.