NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It took overtime, but the Tennessee State women’s basketball team was crowned Ohio Valley Conference Champions following a, 64-60, win over No. 1 seeded UT Martin on Saturday.
With the win, TSU is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995.
“I have had some great games as a coach, but none of them are any better than this one,” Head Coach Larry Joe Inman said. “Our team struggled through a lot of hard times, but we overcame and didn’t back off.”
Brianna Lawrence led TSU with 22 points, 18 of which came after halftime. Her performance earned her OVC Tournament MVP honors following the game. Rachel Allen (13 points) and Chelsea Hudson (eight points) joined Lawrence on the All-OVC Tournament Team.
UTM’s Ashia Jones, who came into the game averaging 34.5 points per game in the OVC Tournament, was held to 23 on 6-of-18 shooting (33.3 percent).
“We did an awesome job on defense inside. We had Jones isolated one-on-one for most of the game, but our help defense was always there to lend a hand,” Inman said.
Jones was UTM’s only offensive weapon early in the game and she was ineffective at best. The Lady Tigers limited her to three points through the first 10 minutes and they did it with only one defender guarding her.
Meanwhile, TSU spread to ball around on offense to get both its shooters and post players open looks. The sharing tactic led to a pair of early threes from I'mani Davis and Allen and a commanding, 19-7, lead through the first quarter of action.
“I thought we seized momentum early in the game, and that shows you the mentality that we had, we weren’t backing down,” Inman said. “We took the initiative and then we took control.”
The Skyhawks slowly crept back into the game and it started with Jones canning a pair of jump shots. Defensively, UTM forced TSU to keep the ball on one side of the court by bracketing the other. The strategy forced six Lady Tiger turnovers and a Tennessee State scoring drought of 4:37.
With the score, 23-21, UTM’s Danielle Woolfolk canned a wide-open three pointer to give the Skyhawks’ their first lead of the game. Allen made sure that it was short-lived as on the next possession, she converted on a driving layup with 1:32 to play in the half.
Hudson continued the charge with an old-fashioned three-point play to end the first half and the Lady Tigers took a 28-26 lead into the locker room.
Lawrence poured in a pair of threes to highlight the start of the second period, but TSU fouls eventually proved costly. The Skyhawks entered the double-bonus with 8:47 to play and went up, 45-41.
The Lady Tigers figured out UTM’s 1-3-1 zone later in the half and a slashing Davis layup made it five straight makes to tie the game at 49 with 5:29 to go.
Lawrence made back-to-back shots for TSU, but UTM countered with four free throws to leave the score tied with 53 seconds to play. Allen stole the ball from Jones to give the Lady Tigers one shot for the win, but Davis travelled on TSU’s possession.
UTM had a final shot at the buzzer but UTM’s shot didn’t beat the horn, forcing overtime.
Lawrence got TSU off to a good start in extra time with a jumper in the lane and an Allen three-pointer with two minutes left gave the Lady Tigers a 58-57 advantage.
Again, Lawrence proved why she was named MVP by hitting her third triple of the game to pad the lead to an insurmountable four points.
The Lady Tigers find out where and who they will play in the NCAA Tournament on Monday, March 16.
“We don’t care who we play in the NCAA Tournament, whoever it is, let’s line them up and play it… who’s next?”