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Furious comeback over UAB gives Raiders first C-USA title

MT claims sixth consecutive regular season championship

March 1, 2014 ·

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - No. 23/25 Middle Tennessee used a 26-8 run in the final eight minutes to defeat UAB, 68-58, and claim the school's first regular season Conference USA title on Senior Day at the Murphy Center.

The Blazers (15-12, 7-7 Conference USA) held an 11 point lead under 12 minutes remaining in the contest. Three-pointers from Shanice Cason and KeKe Stewart sparked the Blue Raiders (25-4, 14-1 C-USA) and cut UAB's edge to five points. With six minutes remaining Cason once again hit a triple followed by two jumpers from Stewart. Senior Ebony Rowe then stepped up adding the next eight points. UAB cut the deficit to five with a minute remaining, but Stewart found the magic touch beyond the arch that helped seal the Raiders' first ever C-USA title.

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Rowe finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and two assists in the win. Stewart hit five field goals, including three triples, to total 15 points. Cason drained three triples and finished with 12 points in Middle Tennessee's win. Whitleyville's Laken Leonard chimed in with nine points and seven rebounds.

Saturday's victory assured Middle Tennessee the top seed in the Conference USA Championship that will be held in El Paso, Texas on March 11-15. MT will play in the quarterfinals on March 13. The Raiders are just one of four schools that are seeking a sixth consecutive regular season title, joining Green Bay, Gonzaga and Stanford.

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For the game, MT shot 41.1 percent (23-of-46), while holding UAB to 38.9 percent (21-of-54) shooting. MT knocked down 14-of-28 for 50 percent in the second half, overcoming a 32 percent first half effort. The Raiders won the rebound column, 39-33.

To open the game, the Blazers came out firing opening up to a 5-0 lead. UAB hit three treys and drove down the lane to maintain an advantage for most of the first half. The Blazers kept their shooting mark at 50 percent, stretching their edge to nine with 8:33 left in the opening frame.

The Blue Raiders went on a 13-6 run to cut their deficit to 28-26 at the half. MT shot just 32.1 percent (9-of-28) from the field, while the Blazers were knocking down 40 percent (10-of-25) of their attempts. UAB controlled the rebound column, 20-17, at the midway stanza. Rowe led MT with six points, while Chapman had 13 points.

UAB came out on fire in the second half stretching their lead back to 40-31 with 13:17 to play. Middle Tennessee chipped away to five with back-to-back triples from Cason and Stewart. The Blazers used a 5-2 run, taking a 50-42 lead with 7:21 remaining.

A methodical 26-to-8 run down the stretch helped the Raiders earn their eighth home court league victory, which tied a C-USA league record. The senior class consists of six players: Janay Brinkley, Janiece Johsnon, Lauren March, Leonard, Rowe and Stewart. This group has amassed 99 wins in four seasons and boasts the third best winning percentage (.784) of any Blue Raider Class.

Middle Tennessee has now won 25-plus games in three consecutive seasons and six out of nine years under Rick Insell. On Wednesday, the Blue Raiders close out the 2013-14 regular season with a 7 p.m. contest at Tulane.

NOTES

Middle Tennessee clinched its first ever Conference USA regular season title on Saturday ... MT has won 25 or more games in three consecutive years and the six out of nine seasons under Rick Insell ... MT now has 19 regular season titles and 35 overall championships ... Coach Rick Insell now has 999 career wins and is one shy of reaching his 1,000th career win, which spans his high school and college career. 

QUOTES

Head Coach Rick Insell

Opening Statement:

Two weeks ago I told our players that every game was going to be like that. I wish I hadn't said that because every game has been like that since then. What a special group. They just never give up. (UAB)'s got a good team. They had us down at their place. Who knows where they're going to fall in the tournament so we may end up having to play them again. They're a quality team and a very well coached team.

On winning the regular season conference title:

We didn't want to share it. We had a chance not to share it. We have our best chance to win at home instead of going on the road...Our best bet was going to be right here at Murphy Center. So going into today's game we said 'let's take our best shot right here.' All we had to do is win one game, and we've done that now.

Senior Forward Ebony Rowe

On the victory on Senior Day:

That was) the best feeling in the world. Would I have liked it to be a better game overall? Of course. But what better way (to end it)? The crowd was so into it. It was one of those atmospheres you dream about playing in as a kid. I couldn't ask for any more. It was amazing.

Junior Guard Shanice Cason

On the win:

It's amazing to just come out and get this big win. We are the first team (at MT to win Conference USA title). We want to send a message to the rest of the teams and say 'Hey, we're here and we didn't come here just by a miracle. We're here to win it all.

Senior Forward KeKe Stewart

On talking to Coach Insell after the game:

The first thing I told him was thank you and that I loved him and that I appreciate everything. He told me that I did a good job and I just said thank you.

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