Dec. 20, 2013
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It started as a runaway, became a nail-biter and ultimately ended in a sigh of relief as the Tulane University women's basketball team outlasted Virginia in overtime, 79-72, in the opening game of the FGCU Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Classic on Friday afternoon at Florida Gulf Coast University's Alico Arena.
Tulane (6-3) led by as many as 20 in the first half before the Cavaliers (4-6) used a 24-7 run over the final two and a half minutes of the first half through the first 3:22 of the second to give Virginia a 44-41 lead. The Green Wave answered with a 15-2 run over the next 7:56 to go up by double digits at 56-46.
Undaunted the Cavaliers rallied late to take a 65-64 lead with 9.9 seconds remaining in regulation, but sophomore forward Tierra Jones made 1-of-2 free throws with 6.1 seconds to play to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, Tulane held Virginia scoreless over the first two-plus minutes while junior forward Adesuwa Ebomwonyi sandwiched four free throws around a layup by junior guard Danielle Blagg and the Green Wave never trailed again.
"I really thought the team played hard today," Tulane head coach Lisa Stockton said. "We played tough. We really challenged the team that the game has to start from the defense out. We started the game well defensively, did some great things and just played like the aggressor in the first half. In the second half, we lost they lead, Virginia was being very aggressive and then we kept fighting. I this was a very good game for us as far as how we responded to adversity. That was a big free throw by Tierra at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime and we didn't look back."
The Virginia defense held Tulane to a 35.2 field goal percentage (19-of-54) and gave up just six field goals after halftime. The difference in the game, however, came at the free throw line as the Green Wave was able to convert 31-of-45 opportunities from the charity stripe for the game.
While the Wave were just 4-of-24 from the field in the second half (.167), Tulane hit 15-of-23 free throws in the final 20 minutes of regulation and were 10-of-12 from the stripe (.833) in overtime. Tulane's 31 made free throws ranks tied for sixth in the school's single-game record book while the 45 attempts sit third.
The Green Wave held a 44-41 rebounding advantage and turned 19 offensive boards into 24 second-chance points. Virginia outscored Tulane in the paint, 24-16, but the Wave forced 22 turnovers - including 10 via steal - and scored 28 points of Cavalier miscues.
Blagg tallied the first double-double of her career with a season-high 25 points to go with a career-best 10 rebounds to lead three Green Wave players in double figures offensively. Ebomwonyi came off the bench to tie her career high with 20 points - including an 11-of-14 performance from the free throw line - while junior point guard Jamie Kaplan followed with 12.
Twenty-one of Blagg's points came on seven 3-pointers, a total that ranks tied for fifth in Tulane single-game history. Kaplan led all players with eight rebounds and shared team-high steal honors with Jones and junior forward Tiffany Dale at two apiece.
"The biggest key to this game was that we handled the adversity," Stockton said. "We lost that lead and came back. That might be the best thing for us - to come back and take it over again and fight back. Virginia did a great job of coming back and attacking us in the second half and whittled that lead down. I was really glad our kids just played hard, stuck with it, execute and were ready to step up to that free throw line. We were aggressive, got to the free throw line and did a good job there."
Virginia scored the game's opening points on a Lexie Gerson jumper 13 seconds into the contest before Tulane went on a 17-4 run to set the tone for a first half dominated by the Green Wave. Tulane's pushed the lead to 15 at 29-14 with 6:53 to go before halftime and held a 20-point edge at 37-17 with 2:33 left in the opening stanza.
Gerson, however, caught fire down the stretch and hit four consecutive baskets for the Cavaliers - including three 3-pointers - to cut the Tulane lead down to 11 at 39-28 heading into the locker room at the break.
The Virginia rally continued in the second half as the Cavaliers scored the first eight points of the period to cut the deficit to three, and following a pair of free throws by freshman guard Leslie Vorpahl, scored eight-straight points to go up by three with 16:38 to play in regulation.
Tulane's first field goal of the second half did not come until the 13:32 mark, but proved to be a big one as a Blagg 3-pointer tied the game at 44-all. A basket by Virginia's Sarah Imovbioh put the Cavaliers up by a pair two possessions later, but a pair of Kaplan free throws sparked a 12-0 Green Wave run to give Tulane a 56-46 edge with 8:42 to play.
Virginia whittled the Green Wave lead down to one at 64-63 with 1:26 showing on the clock, and Imovbioh connected on a lauyup with 19.9 seconds to play. Tulane had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Blagg's jumper in the lane was off the mark. The Cavaliers snared the rebound, but Tulane was able to force a jump-ball situation and the possession arrow favored the Wave.
Jones was fouled as the ensuing play unfolded, and after missing the first shot, she calmly sank her second opportunity to extend the contest by five minutes.
Ebomwonyi opened the overtime-period scoring with two free throws 14 seconds into the frame, Blagg canned a layup on the Green Wave's next possession, and Ebomwonyi capitalized on her next trip to the free throw line with two more points. A jumper by Virginia's Tiffany Suarez made things interesting momentarily at 71-67 with 2:51 to play, but the Green Wave would go on to hit 4-of-6 free throws over the final two minutes and added a Kaplan jumper to put the Cavaliers away.
Atairi Franklin led three Virginia players in double figures with 22 points while Gerson finished with 18 and Imovbioh added 14. Imovbioh completed a double-double with a game-high 12 rebounds and Kelsey Wolfe paced the Cavaliers with five assists. Gerson and Franklin shared team-high steal honors with three thefts each.
Tulane will close out play in the FGCU Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Classic on Saturday when the Green Wave take on Saint Francis (Pa.) at 3:30 p.m. (CST). The game will be broadcast live on the flagship radio station of Tulane women's basketball, WRBH 88.3 FM, and the contest will be simulcast on the Internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com to paid members of the All-Access Pass. Live stats are also available on-line for free.
"My assistants have scouted them," Stockton said of the Red Flash. "The one thing I know is they score a lot of points and they give up a lot of points, so it really could be a shootout. Hopefully our team can stand strong against a team like that. They can really score. The shot clock is going to run down about 10 seconds and they're going to shoot it, so we're going to have to play really well. Hopefully we can establish a little inside game that we didn't really establish today. It should be a good one."
From there, the Green Wave return to action on Saturday, Dec. 28, when they open play in the 2013 Tulane/DoubleTree Classic against Northeastern at 1 p.m. in Devlin Fieldhouse. Day one of the DoubleTree Classic will conclude with a 3 p.m. showdown between Indiana State and Northwestern. The winner of those two games will play for the tournament title on Dec. 29 at 3 p.m. and the consolation contest is slated for 1 p.m.
For tickets to those games, as well as future Tulane 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).