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MT falls short in hotly contested battle with No. 4 Tennessee

Rowe and Cason lead Raiders with pair of double-doubles

November 8, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The Middle Tennessee women's basketball could not overcome a 14-0 second half run by No. 4 Tennessee in front of a boisterous 11,227 at the Murphy Center on Friday evening.

The Blue Raiders (0-1) held a 34-22 lead at halftime before falling 67-57 to the Lady Vols (1-0). MT shot 29 percent (17-of-59) for the game, while Tennessee went 36 perecnt (22-of-61) from the floor. In total, UT edged the Raiders 46-44 in the rebound column.

Ebony Rowe and Shanice Cason each lead the way for Middle Tennessee as the duo recorded a double-double each. Rowe inked 21 points and 16 rebounds for the 54th of her career. Cason earned the first double-double of her three-year career with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

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Friday's crowd of 11,227 was the second largest in women's basketball program history only trailing the 11,802 against Tennessee on Nov. 25, 2009.

Opening up the first half, Olivia Jones made her first collegiate basket with a 3-pointer t from the left corner to give MT an early 3-0 lead. UT responded and used misses by Middle Tennessee to take a 7-3 lead with 17:07 remaining.

With 11:43 remaining in the opening half, freshman China Dow made her first basket of the contest, scoring the bucket to give MT the 11-10 lead. The Blue Raiders went on to a 9-0 run before UT scored again, giving MT a comfortable 18-12 lead after the Lady Vol basket. Closing out the half, each side traded baskets until the closing minutes, when Cason accounted for five straight points to extend the lead to 33-20 with 1:10 minutes left. Dow hit one more free throw with 41 seconds remaining to give MT its largest lead of the game, 14 with a 34-20 score.

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In a tale of two halves, UT opened up the second half with 14 unanswered points to take a 36-34 lead. The Lady Vols would take back the lead for a short period of time, holding the two point lead before the Blue Raiders tied the score and took back the coveted lead with 10:17 remaining.

Tennessee would extend its lead to as high as 10 with 4:12 remaining, but the Raiders never went away, chipping the lead to as little as five with 25 seconds remaining.

Rowe finished with 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting, adding 16 rebounds for her first double-double of 2013. Cason tallied 10 points with 10 rebounds.

Jones also reached double digits with 10 points in her collegiate debut, going 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Louisville native Dow narrowly missed double figures with eight points, while picking up a team-best three steals.

MT went 6-of-18 from three-point land, holding Tennessee to 3-of-13. The Blue Raiders open a two-game road trip at Miami (FL) next Friday, Nov. 15.

NOTES 

Friday's crowd of 11,227 was the second largest in women's basketball history only behind the crowd of 11,802 against Tennessee on Nov. 25, 2009 ... Olivia Jones made her first collegiate basket to give MT a 3-0 lead ... Chin Dow also made her collegiate debut with 8 points ... Tennessee responded with a quick bucket on a fast break (UT 3-2) ... Ebony Rowe made her first career three-pointer in the second half ... Rowe has reached double figures in seven consecutive games ... MT had two players with double-doubles for the first time since Icelyn Elie (11/11) and Rowe (18/11) accomplished that feat against South Alabama on Feb. 20, 2013.

QUOTES

Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Insell

Opening Statement:

I'm sad that we lost the ballgame, but on the other hand I feel like we have some young players that saw what we've got to do now to become a better basketball team. We needed a game like this. I'm proud of our effort. It's tough, but it's the first game. We've got about 31 or 32 more.

On Ebony Rowe:

She did a great job. She battled the whole time, played 40 minutes, that's what you're supposed to do. She was battling some of the best big players in the country. They got four kids that could start for anyone in the country, including Connecticut. I was proud of her.

On the home crowd:

It's because of the passion that the state of Tennessee's got for the game of women's basketball. One of the things that the WBCA chartered all of our programs to do across the country was to grow the game. Well you looked at two programs out there tonight that's concerned about growing the game: the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University.

Senior Forward Ebony Rowe 

On tonight's performance:

I'm so proud of my teammates. We played so hard, especially our freshmen Olivia (Jones) and China Dow came off the bench and gave us great minutes. We didn't get the outcome we wanted but I think we woke up the country tonight.

Junior Guard Shanice Cason

On Tennessee's play in the second half: 

I really don't think it was what they did, we took ourselves out of our own game. We didn't run our offense to perfection, we kind of freelanced. But next time we are in that situation, we will run our offense and be more calm.

On what to take from this loss: 

This is a momentum builder actually. We shouldn't hold our head down. We actually played really well against them. It should be a wake up call to the Conference USA saying we are here, we aren't going anywhere, and we are here for a reason.

Tennessee Head Coach Holly Warlick

Opening statement:

For us, it was a tale of two halves. It was a hard-fought game. I thought our defense in the first half was very average. I thought Middle Tennessee did whatever they wanted to do and had a great game plan. At halftime, we adjusted, and got stops. When you get stops, you get better looks. That's how it evolved. We hit some big free throws when we needed to. Thank goodness we had the lead, because it was about to dwindle towards the end. It was a very good win for the Lady Vols.

On adjusting to new rules:

You just keep adjusting. Our two post players were sitting on the bench with three minutes to go in the first half. That's how it is. We've got to adjust. We've got to do a better job as coaches to get our players to where they need to be defensively.

On the defense to open the second half:

I thought Andraya Carter came in and set the tone for us defensively. We defended with our feet and in our stance instead of playing defense with our hands. It's just touching your hands, and that's the discipline part we've got to get better at. I thought Andraya came in and got our team feeling good about their defense. When you guard the ball, it allows you to do other things on the weak side, and I thought Andraya really helped us. We got a couple of charges and we got rolling. It gave us energy. We didn't even attempt to defend anybody in the first half.

On Mercedes Russell:

I think they were keying on her. They were sagging. We weren't hitting outside shots. She's a freshman. She played like a freshman in the first half. She came in in the second half and we kind of relaxed and it was a different half for us.

On the atmosphere:

Any road trip for us is difficult. The fans were great. I thought Rick [Insell] had a great game plan. You're a little concerned when you go in at halftime and you're down by 12. It was a great crowd. It's an environment we're going to need to learn to play in. We'll go into North Carolina, and I'm sure it will be the same way. We put ourselves in that to teach us to be able to play in a hostile environment.

Andraya Carter

On the run to open the second half:

At halftime, we talked about coming out and letting our defense generate our offense. We knew we had to come out strong and hit them really hard in the beginning or they were going to keep rolling, and that's what we did.

On adjusting to the new foul rules:

That's just part of the game this season, and it's something we just have to adjust to. That's how it's going to be, and we have to just encourage each other. That's the way it is, and it's how we have to play.

On second-half defense:

We wanted to put pressure on their point guard. I knew my teammates had help behind me. We knew our defense would get us going. We didn't play very good defense in the first half, so that's what we focused on in the second half.

On the mood at halftime:

[Coach Warlick] came in and told us it was an unacceptable first half, which she was right about. None of the coaches were happy with how we played, and none of us were happy with how we played. Afterwards, we settled down, she settled down, and we talked about what we needed to do. She told us that she knew we were going to come out with a win. She put it in us, we believed it, and we got it.

On the benefit of playing a challenging season opener:

Ariel [Massengale] and I were saying that in the beginning. A lot of teams are starting out with not-so-good opponents, but we started out with a great opponent. They battled and showed us very game's going to be a fight, especially once we get into SEC play. We have one of the toughest schedules, so starting out the same way it's going to be in the end is a big deal, and I think it's going to help us.

Isabelle Harrison

On the mood at halftime:

At first, we had to realize that wasn't us in the first half. We talked to each other and talked about what we needed to do. We just kept encouraging each other, and knew that wasn't us in the first half.

On facing North Carolina on Monday:

I think we really learned our lesson that we have to come out strong, and we can't take any team for granted. Last year, we faced them, they gave us a good game and we gave them a good game. We just have to go up there and play Lady Vols basketball.

On the rivalry with Middle Tennessee:

Most of our teammates know most of their teammates, and it gets quiet with one another once the game approaches. We just go hard on the court. It's a rivalry for us. They came out hard, and we did what we had to do.

On avoiding a repeat of last year's season-opening loss to Chattanooga:

Cierra [Burdick] said that in the locker room at halftime. She told us, "let's learn from Chattanooga last year. We can't start out the year again like that." We got that in our minds. We knew we didn't want to go back on that long bus ride back with the coaches like we did the beginning of last year.

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