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Raiders use second half comeback to thwart Charlotte

Middle Tennessee remains in first with three games remaining

February 22, 2014 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Despite first half shooting woes Middle Tennessee overcame the slow start to knock off the Charlotte 49ers, 48-46, inside the Murphy Center on Saturday afternoon.

The Raiders (23-4, 12-1 Conference USA) trailed by 10 to the 49ers with 15:49 remaining. Middle Tennessee used a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to 32-33 with 11:42 left. MT then managed an 8-2 run to take a 42-41 lead with just five minutes left in regulation. Charlotte (12-13, 6-6 C-USA) cut the deficit to one with 3:17 remaining and had a last second shot to tie the game. However, the 49ers could not prevail.

Saturday's victory helps Middle Tennessee remain on top of the C-USA standings with just three games remaining.

All-America candidate Ebony Rowe led the Blue Raiders with 12 points and 15 rebounds for her 22nd double-double of the season, setting a new personal season-high. It was also the 75th double-dip of her career. Rowe set a new single-season record with 198 defensive rebounds, surpassing her previous school record of 189 last year.

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Shanice Cason and KeKe Stewart each finished in double-figures scoring 11 and 10 points, respectively. Cason helped carry the Blue Raiders through the first half, which saw Rowe not make a field goal.

With the 17-13 Middle Tennessee advantage with a little over three minutes to play, Charlotte closed out the first half on a 10-0 run to take a 23-17 lead at the break. MT shot a season-low 24 percent in the first half with Laken Leonard leading the way with four points.

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In the second half, Charlotte stretched its lead to 10 at the under-16 mark. MT battled on a nine-point run to put themselves within one with 11:42 remaining. With a little over five minutes to play and Middle Tennessee down 41-40 to the 49ers, Olivia Jones found herself at the free throw line after a fast break steal and a hard foul by Charlotte. Jones hit 1-for-2 to tie the score for the first time since 3:10 left in the first half.

On the next possession down the floor Charlotte committed the turnover to give the Blue Raiders their first chance at retaking the lead. Cason led the Blue Raiders down the floor and drove to the lane, picking up the foul. She hit 1-of-2 at the charity stripe and Jones grabbed the offensive rebound on her miss. Rowe with a swift move put in a layup to push the MT lead up to 44-41 with under 4:30 to play.

Each side traded baskets back-and-forth over the next two and a half minutes with Rowe capitalizing on a free opportunity down low to hand MT the 48-44 lead. Charlotte's Gabby Tyler battled through the lane to score a floater that bounced in to narrow the margin down to two with under two minutes to play. Tyler finished the game with eight points.

MT managed to take three shots and corral three offensive rebounds, which burned the clock down to 19 seconds. The 49ers committed two quick offensive fouls to put Cason at the line for a 1-and-1. Cason missed the first and Charlotte nabbed the rebound. Despite 12 seconds on the clock, Charlotte did not manage a final shot.

Middle Tennessee finished 19-for-56 from the floor for 33.9 percent shooting, while Charlotte tallied 22-of-53 attempts for 41.5 percent shooting. The 49ers managed to out rebound the Blue Raiders, holding the 41-37 advantage at the final whistle despite giving up four offensive rebounds in the final 1:30 of play. Middle Tennessee's committed only nine fouls all game and the 49ers only made it to the free throw line three times.

MT continues play in a critical C-USA showdown on Wednesday at East Carolina. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. CT in Greenville, N.C.

NOTES

Middle Tennessee is now 75-3 against conference foes at the Murphy Center under Rick Insell ... Ebony Rowe inked her 22nd double-double this season and the 75th of her career ... Rowe tied the school record for 124 career starts with Patrice Holmes ... Rowe broke her own single-season record set last year with 10 defensive rebounds ... She now has 198 this season ... Middle Tennessee is now 1-0 against Charlotte.

QUOTES

Head Coach Rick Insell

Opening Statement:

Those are the types of games you need to win if you're going to win a championship. We didn't play the best. We shot 33 percent, got outrebounded by four, didn't shoot our free throws well, but we won a big game. That's what you have to do.

On the play of Olivia Jones:

If she's not scoring, she's helping you other ways. She got a big steal, hit a big free throw, and then got several rebounds down the stretch. She had six rebounds and probably four of those were in the last two minutes of the game.

On second half play:

Their whole intensity changed. Their whole body language changed. When (we) got an eight point lead you could just tell. Ebony Rowe changed like a bolt of electricity went through her. Shanice (Cason) knocked down a three. That gave us a little enthusiasm. We just built on that. KeKe (Stewart) came in. Where would we be without KeKe tonight?

Junior Guard Shanice Cason

On grinding out the win:

We have a tough schedule. The conference is very hard. Anybody can win any given night. For us to come out and be down and pull together as a team and grit it out and get it done it was awesome. We could just see the fire in each other's eyes.

Senior Forward Ebony Rowe

On the win:

Not to take any credit away from (Charlotte), but it was just a bad first half. I couldn't hit anything: a three, a layup, a free throw, nothing. You have games like that. We really struggled, but I think that's what makes us good players and a good team. We do not give up. I might have had zero points, but my teammates kept me up and they kept me positive. That's what teams are all about, they really pull you through when you need them.

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