Sun Belt Tournament stay ends in quarterfinals

Postseason hopes still alive

March 6, 2011 · Athletic Communications

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Middle Tennessee's quest for a third-straight Sun Belt Tournament title came to an end Sunday afternoon, as the Blue Raiders fell 77-62 to Arkansas State in the quarterfinal round inside the Summit Arena in Hot Springs, Ark.

Middle Tennessee placed a trio in double figures, led by 2011 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Ebony Rowe with 19 points. She added 11 rebounds for her 16th double-double the campaign, helping the Blue Raiders win the battle on the glass, 33-to-32.

Senior Anne Marie Lanning and sophomore Icelyn Elie each contributed 14 points, while Elie finished just short of a double-double of her own with nine caroms. Starters Kortni Jones and Jordyn Luffman were the only other Middle Tennessee players to score, tallying nine and six points, respectively.

The Red Wolves, who shot season highs from the floor, put four players in double digits, led by a game-high 21 from Shania Hurst. She knocked down four 3-pointers, one shy of the Blue Raider team total, and added 5-of-5 free throws as Arkansas State (18-13) hit 15-of-19 for the game.

Joining Hurst were Quinishia McDowell (14), Jane Morrill (14) and Meghan Lewis (11), while McDowell topped the squad with seven boards.

The Red Wolves jumped out to a quick 6-0 start within the opening two minutes before Lanning hit a triple for the first Middle Tennessee (23-7) points at 17:14. During the next three minutes, Arkansas State would increase its lead to 10, 15-5, capped by a Lewis trey. After a free throw and layup on consecutive possessions by Elie trimmed it to seven, 15-8, but four more ASU points pushed MT's deficit to 11, 19-8, with 11:23 left in the period.

The two teams traded points, either by free throws or field goals, during the next four minutes with the Red Wolves maintaining a 10-point edge as the seven-minute mark passed. The two teams then went cold for the next two-and-a-half minutes before Rowe ended the drought with an old-fashioned three-point play at 4:34 to pull the Blue Raiders within seven, 25-18.

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A 7-2 Arkansas State spurt swelled its margin back to a dozen, 32-20, with 2:10 remaining, but Middle Tennessee closed the half on an 8-2 run of its own, scoring eight consecutive points, to make it a six-point difference, 34-28, at the half.

The Blue Raiders came out of the locker room on fire, draining their first five field goals, four of which were either on 3-pointers or old-fashioned three-point plays, to knot the score three times, the last coming on a Luffman trey at 17:10, to force a 42-42 deadlock.

However, the Red Wolves did not wilt, and scored seven of the next nine points for a seven-point advantage, 51-44, just two minutes later. Middle Tennessee countered with a 13-4 surge, started by a Jones 3-pointer and ended by a Jones layup, to pull the Blue Raiders back within two, 57-55, with 10:01 to play.

Arkansas State turned the momentum around, beginning with a Hurst triple, and embarked on an 11-2 run, ending with an old-fashioned three-point play by Lewis at 5:50, to make it a 68-57 game and putting it out of reach. Rowe hit a layup on the next Middle Tennessee possession, but the nine-point margin would be as close as the Blue Raiders would get down the stretch, as the Red Wolves' 15-point final advantage proved to be the game's highest.

Middle Tennessee will now wait and learn of its postseason fate next week, whether it makes the NCAA Tournament or Postseason WNIT.

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