Middle Tennessee 53, UALR 48

Arkansas-Little Rock picked the wrong time to go cold on


The Trojans blew a seven-point lead in the second half, going

nearly seven minutes without a point Monday as Middle Tennessee

rallied for a 53-48 win in the Sun Belt Conference championship


The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak for UALR (24-8), which

was led by Shanity James’ 14 points and had won the last two

tournament titles. It also likely ended a stretch of three straight

NCAA tournament appearances for the Trojans, who were in the

championship game for the fifth straight year.

”That would be tough. It’d be tough,” UALR coach Joe Foley

said. ”… You’ve got to get your name up on that bracket early in

the year, and if you don’t get it up there it’s hard to get up

there at the end of the year. I think it will be very tough for


Middle Tennessee’s Ebony Rowe, meanwhile, made sure she didn’t

have to experience the feeling of another loss in Summit Arena,

scoring 20 points and grabbing 13 points to lead the Blue Raiders


The school earned its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance

with its first tournament title since 2010. Last season, the Blue

Raiders lost in overtime to UALR before making the NCAA tournament

as an at-large team.

”It feels a lot better to know you’re going to watch and you’re

name’s going to get called, without a doubt,” Middle Tennessee

guard Kortni Jones said. ”Last year, we were on pins and


”… This year, we know our name will pop up.”

Two years ago, the Blue Raiders took part in the conference

tournament just days following the stabbing death of teammate Tina

Stewart. They lost their first game that year, as well as last

season’s championship game to the Trojans.

This time around, however, Middle Tennessee found a way to rally

from seven points down in the second half to return to the top of

the conference it has ruled for a decade. The Blue Raiders will

make their seventh NCAA appearance in the last eight years.

”I never felt like that we would lose this tournament,” Middle

Tennessee coach Rick Insell said. ”I asked the good Lord, I said,

`These kids need to be rewarded’ because they’ve gone through a

bunch the last three years, a lot more than anybody across this

country will ever know.

”… An ordinary student-athlete, it would have been tough on

them. They’re not ordinary, I’ll tell you. They’re way above


Middle Tennessee trailed by seven points in the second half

before rallying after the Trojans went nearly seven minutes without

a point.

The Blue Raiders opened with an 8-0 run, behind 3-pointers by

Jones and Caroline Warden and a layup by Elie, but UALR responded

with a run of its own after missing its first six shots.

James’ jumper put the Trojans up 9-8, the first of five lead

changes in the half between the same two teams that went to

overtime in the championship game a year ago. The Blue Raiders did

rally to take a 15-11 lead after a jumper by Jones, but the

four-point margin was the largest the rest of the half – after

which UALR held a 26-25 lead.

UALR led 42-39 after a jumper by Kiera Clark with 10:06

remaining. The Trojans, however, then went nearly seven minutes

without a point, and Middle Tennessee went up 44-42 on two free

throws by Rowe. UALR finally scored again with 3:08 remaining on a

jumper by Taylor Gault and it then took a 46-44 lead after a basket

by Clark.

Middle Tennessee, which won its fifth straight regular season

Sun Belt title this year, took control after that – outscoring the

Trojans 9-0 until a meaningless basket in the closing seconds by


Gault, UALR’s leading scorer with an average of 13.9 points,

finished with 13 points on 6-of-23 shooting.

”We couldn’t make shots, I guess,” Gault said. ”… I guess

we just couldn’t do it.”

Rowe made four free throws during the closing run, and she hit

12 of 15 free throws overall in earning Most Valuable Player

honors. She also helped the Blue Raiders, who were making their

10th championship game appearance in the last 11 years, avenge last

season’s overtime loss to the Trojans.

The win is the seventh straight for Middle Tennessee, which

split with UALR during the regular season and last lost to the

Trojans on Feb. 16.

”I’ve been saying it all year, we’re such a dangerous team

because we know how to play together,” Rowe said. ”And we play

really well together.”