On Saturday, March 7, the Tennessee State women’s basketball team defeated four-time defending OVC Champion UT Martin in overtime, 64-60. The win gave the Lady Tigers their third conference title in school history and the first in 20 years.
Coaches and players celebrated the historic victory by dancing at center court, while others hugged and nearly everyone shed a tear.
The game capped an improbable run that saw Rachel Allen as an aggressive scorer, Chelsea Hudson play hard-nosed defense and Brianna Lawrence get too hot to miss.
Another key contributor to the big win was senior Briana Morrow who poured in 15 points and eight rebounds in the Friday and Saturday matchups.
However, the momentous occasion might not have ever happened were it not for what took place 20 years before.
In 1995, now TSU AD Teresa Lawrence Phillips led the Lady Tigers to a 20-9 record and beat Tennessee Tech in the OVC Tournament for back-to-back conference championships.
Even at one year of age, Briana Morrow was, in her words “on the sideline, kickin’ it” while watching her mother Darlene Crawley take the court.
In, 2015, Darlene was courtside to watch her daughter accomplish the same feat she did while she at school and even got near the court for the celebration.
“My mom was ecstatic and I think she was more excited for me than I was. She would always tell me about her experiences and then show off her ring… mine is going to be a lot nicer than hers,” Morrow laughed.
When Briana’s ring finally comes in, she can mark off another box on her checklist.
“I went to the same middle school, high school and college as my mom and she is a big inspiration for me. It’s a special feeling knowing that I am doing what I dreamed about doing and following in my mom’s footsteps.”
Briana is on her mom’s path now, but things were very different just two seasons ago.
Fresh off of a stellar senior campaign at Glencliff HS in 2011, Briana was named All-State and the scholarship offers came pouring in from many universities… except Tennessee State.
“I kept waiting for the scholarship offer from TSU, but it never came,” Briana said. “Since my mom went to TSU, it was always my top choice.”
Briana’s next best choice was OVC-rival Jacksonville State where she was the Gamecocks’ best player as soon as she arrived on campus. She did it all for the Gamecocks including score, grab rebounds and block shots.
She was especially effective against Tennessee State and in the three games she played against the Lady Tigers, Briana averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds.
“The Tennessee State games were the biggest games of the season for me. I was so mad and I just wanted to show them what they missed,” Briana said.
Despite Briana’s best efforts, JSU won just five games in the two seasons she attended and while the losses added up, so did Briana’s frustration.
“The losses drove me away. It was very difficult. I couldn’t sleep at night and I hated going to practice. It was hard because I love to win… it humbled me a lot,” Briana said.
Briana left Jacksonville State after her last game against TSU and her playing and academic careers were put into flux.
After dropping out of college in 2013, Briana had no idea what she wanted to do and her walk on her mother’s path seemed to take a detour.
“I didn’t even want to go back to college. It was God’s hand that led me back and He did it a week before the semester started,” Briana said.
Finally enrolled in a college that she always wanted to attend, Briana still struggled over whether or not to try out for the team that didn’t think she was good enough two years ago.
“My mom encouraged me to continue playing basketball, but I wasn’t sure. I was still upset from my experience at Jacksonville State, but she finally convinced me.”
Briana joined the Lady Tiger team prior to the 2013-14 season and she was suddenly teammates of those she tried so hard to beat the previous two seasons.
“It was kind of weird coming to practice at first. I kept thinking that I just played against these girls and now I am one of them. It was awkward at first, but now I feel like I am home.”
The team experienced some growing pains during Briana’s junior campaign, meaning her senior season was the last chance for her to match her mom’s accomplishments.
The 2014-15 season did not start the way any of the TSU players thought it would. The Lady Tigers started the year 1-6, including a 0-2 mark in the inaugural Teresa Phillips Classic.
“At the beginning of the season, we had no identity and we didn’t know who was going to lead. It was hard because we were trying to win games while trying to figure ourselves out at the same time. We weren’t having fun,” Briana said.
That all changed going into the conference season when the players defined roles and aired out their differences at a closed-door meeting.
“The seniors decided that we all had to come together and get right. After that, we all said that it was our last go round so we have to play our game,” Briana said.
The soul-searching worked as the Lady Tigers started 5-1 in conference play and finished the year by winning their last 10 games in a row, including an OVC Crown.
Briana, who was the best player on a bad team at JSU, was now just a very good player on the best team, which is just fine with her.
“I would rather the team have success than people knowing my name. I would rather win than not.”
On Monday, Briana and her teammates will find out who they will play in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
No matter where the Lady Tigers go play, Briana takes comfort in one thing:
“My mom is going to take a bus and have the whole family on it.”