Icelyn Elie (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)
A combination of 38 forced turnovers and 11 3-pointers carried Middle Tennessee women's basketball to a dominating 87-45 win against Kennesaw State in the first round of the WNIT.
The Lady Raiders (1-0) took control early and never looked back as they picked up their first 40+ win since beating Louisiana by 52 last season. It was a solid night for the blue and white, as MT finished up with 22 steals and 18 assists. KSU (0-1) shot 52 percent (18-of-35), but were outrebounded 45-to-27.
Middle Tennessee moves to the second round of the WNIT and will face the winner of the Grambling State at Memphis game. That contest will be held at the Murphy Center on Tuesday.
Ebony Rowe scored a game-high 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for her 33rd career double-double. The junior, who was honored with her 1,000-point club ball before the game, moved to 21st all-time in school history with 1,092 points. Rowe surpassed Joanne Aluka's previous mark of 1,090.
The Lexington product also grabbed nine rebounds off the glass to move to third all-time in school history with 338, passing Patrice Holmes.
Two other Lady Raiders reached double-figures. Kortni Jones was a remarkable 5-of-12 from three point range and hit a career-tying eight field goals for 21 points. Jones moved into eighth all-time with 178 all-time triples, again passing Holmes.
All-Conference performer Icelyn Elie tallied 10 points and grabbed seven boards with two steals. Starters Leonard and Shanice Cason also rounded strong performances. Leonard tied for a career-high seven rebounds, five which came off the defensive glass. Cason scored eight points, collected a team-high and career-tying six steals, while dishing out four assists in the span of 28 minutes.
The Raiders opened game with a four point lead as Cason hit a front-end of a free throw and Laken Leonard followed in the next possession with a trey. KSU tied up the game with baskets from Kristina Wells and Chantel Kennedy.
A 17-4 run extended the Lady Raiders advantage to 21-8 with just 10 minutes left in the half. An 18 point cushion was built up before KSU went on a five run spurt capped by a Brian Young triple to pull within 10 with 1:45 left in the opening half.
There was a 14-point edge for MT at the midway point. Rowe led all scorers with 13 points and eight rebounds. Rowe was 5-of-8 from the field. 12 Raider points were scored off turnovers as MT outmanned the Owls on the boards, 24-16..
To start the second half, the Raiders opened on an 11-0 run. The Raiders extended its lead to a 20 when Jones pick-pocketed KSU and scored a basket. Ebony Rowe followed with another steal and a layup with a plus-one.
The Raiders picked up in shooting, knocking down 45 percent of their shots in the second half and finishing the game with 41 percent (33-of-81). MT stretched its lead to 46 with 2:09 left in the game to advance to the second round of the WNIT.
Lauren March came off the bench to add seven points and grab five rebounds. KeKe Stewart performed strong with five boards and four points.
On Sunday, the Lady Raiders return to the Murphy Center to take on Grambling State or Memphis. The game is Veteran Appreciation Day, as all current and former military members and their families receive free admission. Fans are also encouraged to bring a brand new unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots.