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Raiders battle, but fall short to Louisville

Kortni Jones, Icelyn Elie and Ebony Rowe tally double-figures

March 24, 2013 · MT Athletic Communications

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Middle Tennessee trimmed a big first half deficit to one midway through the second half, but Louisville used its' pressure defense to stymie the Blue Raiders and collect a 74-49 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Despite falling behind 20-3, the Blue Raiders battled back to trim the lead to one with 11:56 left to play in the game. However, Louisville (25-8) utilized a 24-4 run to expand the lead and clinch the victory. The Blue Raiders (25-8) closed out an excellent season that saw the team collect its seventh Sun Belt Tournament title and its fifth consecutive regular season title. MT also made a school-record fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

Senior guard Kortni Jones finished with a team-high 14 points and three assists. Her two three-pointers moved her into the all-time leader of treys at MT with 259, surpassing Brandi Brown.

For the sixth consecutive game, Ebony Rowe recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Rowe moved her double-double total to 21 this season, good enough for second all-time at MT.

Her five grabs off the defensive glass moved her into a single-season record with 189 defensive boards, passing the previous record of 187 set by Alysha Clark in 2010. The Lexington product was also 5-of-6 from the field with two blocks, an assist and a steal.

Lebanon's Icelyn Elie totaled 13 points and picked up seven rebounds. Her four made three-pointers tied for the third best performance in school history.

Also with an impressive day was Laken Leonard. The junior went 3-of-6 from the field with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes.

Louisville used a 16-0 run to open to a 20-3 lead, while holding the Raiders scoreless for nearly seven minutes during that stretch.

Faced with a daunting comeback, MT battled back bit-by-bit, using two separate five point runs over a span of four to pull within 11. The Cardinals pulled back ahead by 13. MT would not go away, however, as Rowe hit a jumper and Elie nailed a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions, putting the game within eight point reach. MT used a big 3-pointer by Jones with 25 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to seven at intermission, 34-27.

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Out of the break, MT rattled off to 3-pointers to cut the lead to one, 34-33. The Blue Raiders would bring it within one two more times before Louisville used a 24-to-4 run to pull away. UofL had four players reach double figures with Shoni Schimmel leading the way with 20.

The Blue Raiders closed out a remarkable season that saw the team complete a 25-8 overall record and a 17-3 mark in Sun Belt play. Several Blue Raiders had record setting years, including three 1,000-point scorers in Elie, Rowe and Jones. Coach Rick Insell also became the school's all-time winningest coach for the women's program. MT closed out its final year in the Sun Belt with a regular season and tournament title.

NOTES

Middle Tennessee falls to 5-16 in 16 NCAA Tournament appearances ... Ebony Rowe has a school record 53 double-doubles in her career and had 21 for the season ... Kortni Jones is now the school's all-time record holder with 259 career three-pointers ... Ebony Rowe set the single season mark with 189 defensive rebounds ... MT falls to 1-4 all-time against Louisville.

POSTGAME QUOTES - Middle Tennessee
Middle Tennessee State Head Coach Rick Insell

(Opening statement)

"Too many turnovers. We felt like Louisville might give our guards some problems because we're so small and they have so much length and we're so young with a freshman and a sophomore. It was good coaching on Jeff's (Walz) part. His team reacted well. They changed defenses on us and gave us some problems. We couldn't get in sync with our offense. We cut it to one and I felt like we were pretty much in charge, then we turned the ball over a time or two when we just didn't take care of it. I'm not going to say that was the difference in the game. I think the difference probably was them changing their defense and pressuring up on our guards. Not blaming our guards, don't get me wrong because they just haven't been through that yet. Hopefully they learn from this and next time we get the opportunity to play somebody like Louisville we'll handle the situation. I'm proud of our basketball team. I'm proud of the year. I'm proud of our university."

(On preparing for Louisville's length at guard)

"At the end of the semester we were able to use some male practice players. I feel like it's made our basketball team a little better. When you're 6'-2, 6-3 and you're running at our guards and they're 5-3 and 5-2, it's difficult to pass through them and you can't pass over them. We made a few bad decisions and they went on a run early. We got back in the game because we handled their pressure, but then they came back at us. I thought we had a couple of unforced turnovers where we stepped out of bounds and stuff like that. That's just attributed to the fact that we're young at those positions and hopefully we'll grow out of that."

(On making a comeback in the first half)

"I felt like we got two looks when we were one down. Kortni (Jones) had a wide open three which I felt like eight out of ten times she knocks that down. That would've put us up two. Then I think we had a defensive stop and then had another chance to get a knock down. These young ladies have weathered so many storms this year. We've had so many close games that really and truly when it was 18-3, I felt like we could get back in the game. We had a couple of possessions there before the half to get it to five or maybe even three. We talked about that during the half and felt like coming back out just stay with our offense, try not to go out of the box, turn it, and we'd get what we wanted and we did. We just weren't able to knock down some shots. It may have been a little bit of fatigue, I don't know. I'm so proud of them for not quitting."

(On Shoni Schimmel)

That's what she's supposed to do. We knew coming out that they were going to give it to her. When we cut it to one they were not going to give it to anyone else but her and she was going to make a play or knock down a shot and she did that. That's what your marquee player is supposed to do. That's why we go to Ebony (Rowe) and that's why we put the ball in Kortni's hands."

(On players returning next year)

"I feel really good about what we have coming back. Our recruiting class is good. We've got another Kentucky girl coming in. I hope she's as good as the one we've got now. I think she will be. We've got some good young ladies coming on board from the state and we've got some young ladies who are on the bench but just need a little more growing up. I feel really good about it. I'm excited about what we've got coming back. We don't just have a team at Middle Tennessee, we've got a program. If you look you'll see the last 10 or 11 years we've been to the NCAA tournament. What we've got to do is take it one more step and that's what we're in the process of building right now."

(On what Kortni Jones and Icelyn Elie have meant to the program)

"Everything to be honest with you. They do it all. It's not going to be the same. Kortni has been playing for me since she was 12 years old. She's going to have to play for somebody else now. She came through our travel team and AAU program. Icelyn Elie is just an amazing athlete who's turned into a very good basketball player. I think you saw that. At halftime she was three for three. We just ask her to do so much; guard the perimeter, stay inside for the post. She just does everything. There will be somebody else to step up and fill her shoes."

(On Louisville's ability to go on runs)

"First off you've got a good coach that prepares his team for that. He's got the players in the right position. He knows exactly what he wants to do. We knew that Jeff was going to alert us to what was going on and it'd be up to us to take advantage of that and we didn't do a very good job. If you want to go back to anything you go back to Jeff and what he's done. His players have bought into what he wants to do and they execute it to a T. If the ship was going to be going down it was in (Shoni) Schimmel's hands. That's very, very smart."

Icelyn Elie

(On her career at Middle Tennessee)

"It's been a great experience and I have learned so much from being here, coming in freshman year was tough but that's when I learned the most, coming in and playing with upperclassmen. But overall I have enjoyed my experience playing for this college."

(On what the mindset was when they were down) 

"We have been in that position plenty of times this year, we just held ourselves together and we knew that there was a chance for us to come back. It was early in the game, and we need to be able to handle that kind of pressure."

Kortni Jones

(On her career at Middle Tennessee.)

"It's been nothing but great and I am extremely blessed to have the experience to play here. I feel like I picked the right place to come to show case my skills, and I had a great coaching staff and University behind me because they wanted to be not because they had to be. So for me it has been nothing but great."

(On how difficult it was to simulate their traps)

"It's harder when your practice players are the same size and the same length as you. We don't have guards that are as long as them so it's really hard when that's not exactly what you're practicing against. The emotion and just being in the tournament helped them out too, and they just got the job done."

(On how they got back into the game after being down)

"Staying settled and executing, that's something our coaches have been preaching to us since the Sun Belt Tournament. That's how you win games and that's how you stay in games, and that's how you make a comeback which is exactly what we did."

Ebony Rowe

(On how they defended her)

"It was nothing we didn't expect, they said they were just not going to let me control the tempo of the game and not let me get a lot of touch's on the ball."

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