March 13, 2014
EL PASO, Texas - Junior forward Tiffany Dale posted her seventh double-double of the year with 17 points and 12 rebounds, but it was not enough as the fourth-seeded Tulane University women's basketball team dropped a 69-55 decision to No. 13 seed FIU in the 2014 Conference USA Championship quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at UTEP's Memorial Gym.
The Green Wave rallied from a 34-26 halftime deficit to make it a three-point affair at 58-55 on a layup by junior wing Adesuwa Ebomwonyi with 5:36 left in regulation. From there, however, Tulane went cold from the field, going 0-for-12 from the field and turning the ball over once over the final five and half minutes. The Panthers, meanwhile, scored 11 unanswered points down the stretch - 10 of which came from guard Jerica Coley - to account for the final score.
The loss was Tulane's third in a row as the Green Wave fall to 20-10 on the year. FIU, meanwhile, won its third game in as many days to improve to 15-17 overall and advance to take on regular-season champion and 20th-ranked Middle Tennessee in the C-USA semifinals on Friday.
"Florida International did so many great things and I really commend them," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "People talk about Coley a lot and she's a fantastic player, but I think what's really changed in this tournament is their supporting cast. They've done a great job of defending, rebounding and basically taking the shots they need to take.
"We had some great looks [late in the game] and the ball was in and out. We had three layups that just rimmed out. If any of those things go our way, it's a different game but it just didn't. We just couldn't score and that's tough to come back from."
Ebomwonyi and freshman guard Leslie Vorpahl finished second to Dale on the team offensive with 12 points each. Junior point guard Leslie Kaplan paced the squad with six assists and Ebomwonyi tied a career high with six steals to go with seven rebounds and a blocked shot.
"When you have games like [FIU has] in this tournament where they shoot 50 percent, you have to admire that," Stockton said. "It's not all Coley and that's a tribute to them. For us, you just can't shoot 32 percent and get out-rebounded by 13. That's, ultimately, the game. You can look at any of the particular scorers, but it comes down to that. In championship play, it's tough to win that way."
The Green Wave got off to a solid start and led by as many as three early on at 8-5 with 13:44 to play in the first half. Tulane erased a one-point deficit 3:33 later when sophomore center Chinwe Duru connected on a jumper from the left elbow only to see FIU sandwiched a pair of Tynia McKinzie layups around a Coley bucket to take an 18-13 lead it would not relinquish.
Tulane got the deficit down to one twice in the period but could get no closer. FIU outscored the Green Wave 6-1 over the final two-plus minutes of the half to go into the locker room on top, 34-26. The Wave opened the second half with a 4-0 run to make it 34-30 only to see the Panthers roar back with a 7-0 rally to take an 11-point lead.
A Kaplan layup with 12:32 to play got Tulane as close as two at 45-43 but each time Tulane got within a bucket, FIU answered every time and pulled away late to quiet any talks of a Green Wave comeback.
Coley led all players with 34 points to go with team highs of six assists and three steals while adding eight rebounds and a blocked shot. McKinzie logged a double-double for FIU with 15 points and a team-leading 10 rebounds, and Taylor Shade chipped in with 13 points.
"During the season, we felt that FIU is a team that you have to score against," Stockton added. "One person shouldn't out-score the whole team so you've got to score against them. We did a good job at our place of doing that. Here, she ended up with 34 points. We struggled in all areas defending her, but also in defending the other players. At times, we had two on her and they had other players hit some shots. That's been a key for them in this tournament."
Tulane will have to wait to learn of its postseason fate when the respective tournaments are announced on Monday, March 17. The NCAA Selection Show is slated to be completed by 7 p.m. and the WNIT and WBI will release their respective 64- and 16-team bracket shortly thereafter.