NEW ORLEANS, La. – The No. 22 MTSU women’s balanced attack helped the Blue Raiders to a 64-52 win over Tulane on Wednesday, giving head coach Rick Insell his 1,000th overall career victory.
Early in the contest, Tulane (20-9, 11-5 C-USA) opened up to a five-point lead. However, a 13-2 Blue Raider run midway in the first helped MTSU (26-4, 15-1 Conference USA) to its eighth straight win. MTSU now shifts focus to the Conference USA Championship in El Paso, Texas. The Lady Raiders' first game will be in the quarterfinal round next Thursday, March 13.
“They have a good team, very well coached, they play together a lot, have great shooters and are very smart,” Insell said. “We just needed to turn a little time and get percentage shots and that’s what we did. We got it in (Ebony) Rowe’s hands and let her decide what to do with the ball and she did. I felt like we shot the 3-ball very poorly the second half because we had a lot of good looks, but didn’t knock them down. Its big win here at Tulane, though, let me tell you that. Not many people do that.”
Wednesday's victory gave Insell his 1,000th career win, which includes 775 triumphs that he accrued at Shelbyville Central from 1978 to 2005. As MTSU's all-time winningest coach, he has posted 225 victories in nine seasons.
Ebony Rowe paced the Raiders with her 23rd double-double of the year, scoring 24 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Rowe dished out three assists and picked up two steals in 40 minutes of work. Seior KeKe Stewart earned her fifth straight double-figure night with 10 points, while grabbing six rebounds. Sophomore guard Caroline Warden earned double-digit scoring with 11 points.
“We knew they were going to come with a lot of energy and we knew they were going to be motivated,” Rowe said. “They had a lot to play for. With senior night and trying to get a good seed for the tournament, I thought in the beginning they came out with more energy than us. But, we stayed tough and got back to our game play. I think that is why we pulled it out.”
Danielle Blagg' first to buckets gave the Green Wave a four-point advantage to start the game. Tulane stretched their lead to five with 12 minutes remaining. From there, the Lady Raiders rallied back with a 13-2 run. Warden added nine of those 13 points, including draining a trey to give MT the 11-10 edge in the game.
The Blue Raiders stretched the lead to 10 at the 2:14 mark after Stewart drained one of her two 3-pointers. MTSU took a 36-28 advantage over Tulane into the locker room.
Despite a slow start in the first half, MTSU bounced back to shoot 42.3 percent (11-of-26) from the field. Tulane was held to 37.9 percent (11-of-29). Rowe led MT with 10 points and six rebounds, while Blagg had a game-high 12 points at intermission.
MTSU maintained its advantage despite some close Green Wave comebacks. Tulane chipped away their deficit to six, 46-40, at 11:54 with a basket from Adesuwa Ebomwonyi. The Lady Raiders used a methodical approach to maintain a 50-41 lead with 9:24 left.
Freshman Olivia Jones' free throw at the 5:49 mark gave MTSU a 15-point cushion. Tulane cut within single digits on two more occasions, which included a Tiffany Dale layup with 1:08 left. From there, Rowe knocked down four more free throws to seal the victory. Wednesday's loss was the first defeat for Tulane on Senior Day in 21 years.
Statistically, Tulane finished the game shooting 39.3 percent (22-of-56) from the field. MT went 19-of-59 from the field for 32.2 percent shooting. The Raiders hit seven treys and knocked down 91 percent (19-of-21) from the charity stripe. MT outmanned Tulane on the boards, 41-35, and forced 16 TU turnovers for 17 points. Blagg led Tulane with a team-high 18 points.
With the conclusion of the regular season, the Blue Raiders finished the year 26-4 overall and 15-1 in Conference USA play. The 15 wins are the second most in C-USA history.
“Anytime you can win a game on the road and win one like this. Tulane is a top 100 win,” Insell aid. “Matter of fact, they are a top 60 win in the RPI. That is going to help our seeding, that’s all going to help you get into that large bid in case something happens in the tournament. We have done enough now as far as our team is concerned. We won at Miami, we won at Clemson, South Florida and South Dakota State. We have some good wins, so I think the pressure is off of us as far as going into the tournament right now.”