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MTSU women hold off UAB in C-USA tourney

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MTSU guard Shanice Cason soars to the goal against UAB in the Conference USA tournament on Thursday. The Lady Raiders won 69-59. (Photo courtesy Bradley Lamber/MTSU media relations)

EL PASO, Texas - Conference USA Player of the Year Ebony Rowe posted a double-double with game highs of 29 points and 15 rebounds as top-seeded and No. 20/22 ranked MTSU defeated No. 8 seed UAB, 69-59, in the 2014 C-USA Championship quarterfinals on Thursday morning at UTEP's Memorial Gym.

The Blazers trailed by as many as six in the second half and rallied to tie the score at 50-all on a layup by Khoria Newman with 7:32 left in the contest. On the ensuing possession, however, Blue Raiders' forward KeKe Stewart buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to give Middle Tennessee the lead for good.

Rowe's double-double was the 24th of the season, one shy of tying Robin Hendrix's single-season record of 25 set in 1981. Earlier in the day, Rowe was tabbed the College Sports Madness High Major Player of the Year. The Lexington, Ky., native also earned a spot on the CSM High Major All-America team.

In victory, MTSU ran ns its winning streak to nine, improves to 27-4 on the year and advances to the C-USA semifinals where the Blue Raiders will face the winner of Wednesday's Tulane/FIU matchup. Thursday's semifinal is slated for 10 a.m. CT in the Don Haskins Center and the game will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network. UAB, meanwhile, fell to 16-15 on the year and must await word of its postseason fate when the respective tournaments are announced on Monday, March 17.

UAB shot 42.3 percent from the field (22-of-52), including a 13-of-24 performance in the first half (.542), and turned 10 Blue Raiders' turnovers into 15 points. MTSU countered by out-rebounding the Blazers, 42-28, turned 17 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points and held a 32-20 edge in points in the paint.

Stewart finished second to Rowe on the team offensively with 15 points, including a perfect 3-of-3 performance from beyond the 3-point arc. C-USA Freshman of the Year Olivia Jones added 11 rebounds and seven points, while Laken Leonard handed out a game-high five assists.

It was a game of runs early on as UAB scored the first six points before Middle Tennessee come right back with eight consecutive points of its own to claim a two-point lead 4:17 into the contest. The two teams traded buckets over the next five and a half minutes before the Blazers used a 10-3 run to take a six-point edge at 26-20 with 7:33 to play in the opening stanza. UAB's half dozen advantage remained one minute later at 28-22, but Middle Tennessee outscored the Blazers 14-6 over the final six and half minutes of the period to go into halftime on top, 36-34.

The Blue Raiders stretched the lead to seven with five straight points to open the second half only to see UAB answer with a 7-0 run to tie things up at 41-all with 14:22 to play. MTSU extended its lead to six twice in the middle portion of the period at 48-42 with 12:21 left to play and again at 50-44 just under two and a half minutes later. From there, UAB got back-to-back baskets by Karisma Chapman to make it a two-point affair and set up Newman's game-tying bucket.

Following Stewart's go-ahead trey, UAB hung tough for a while and MTSU clung to a 59-57 lead with 3:23 remaining in regulation. The Blue Raiders quieted any talks of a Blazers upset as Jones converted a layup and Rowe followed with a 3-point play and a jumper to make it a nine-point affair.

UAB got a layup from Newman with 1:13 to cut the deficit to seven, but MTSU hit three of its four free throw opportunities the rest of the way to account for the final score.

Ashley Grimes led three Blazers in double figures with 21 points while Chapman and Chelsee Black finished with totals of 16 and 12, respectively. Chaplman paced UAB with nine assists and four steals, and shared team-high assist honors with Black at three apiece.

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basketball, C-USA, ebony rowe, Lady Raiders, MTSU, olivia jones, shanice cason
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