LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Middle Tennessee trimmed a big first-half deficit to one midway through the second half, but Louisville used its pressure defense to stymie the Blue Raiders and collect a 74-49 win in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 24 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Despite falling behind 20-3, the Blue Raiders battled back to trim the lead to one with 11:56 left to play in the game. Louisville, however, made use of a 24-4 run to expand the lead and clinch the victory.
The Blue Raiders closed out an excellent 25-8 season that saw the team collect its seventh Sun Belt Tournament title and its fifth consecutive regular season title. Middle Tennessee also made a school-record fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance.
Senior guard Kortni Jones finished with a team-high 14 points and three assists. Her two three-pointers moved her into the all-time leader of the shots at Middle Tennessee with 259, surpassing Brandi Brown.
For the sixth consecutive game, Ebony Rowe recorded a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Rowe moved her double-double total to 21 this season, good enough for second all-time for the Blue Raiders.
Rowe’s five grabs off the defensive glass moved her into a single-season record with 189 defensive boards, passing the previous record of 187 rebounds set by Alysha Clark in 2010. The Lexington, Ky., native also shot five out of six from the field with two blocks, an assist and a steal.
Icelyn Elie of Lebanon, Tenn., totaled 13 points and picked up seven rebounds. Her four successful three-pointers tied for the third best performance in MTSU history.
Also having an impressive day was Laken Leonard. The junior hit three out of six shots from the field with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes.
Louisville used a 16-0 run to open a 20-3 lead while holding the Blue Raiders scoreless for nearly seven minutes during that stretch.
Faced with a daunting comeback, Middle Tennessee battled back bit by bit, using two separate five-point runs over a span of four to pull within 11 points. The Cardinals pulled back ahead by 13.
Middle Tennessee would not go away, however, as Rowe hit a jumper and Elie nailed a three-pointer on consecutive possessions, putting the game within eight-point reach. MTSU used a big three-pointer by Jones with 25 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to seven at intermission, 34-27.
Out of the break, MTSU rattled off a pair of three-pointers to cut the lead to one, 34-33. The Blue Raiders would bring it within a point two more times before Louisville used a 24-to-4 run to pull away.
Louisville had four players reach double figures with Shoni Schimmel leading the way with 20.
The Blue Raiders closed out a remarkable season that saw the team complete a 25-8 overall record and a 17-3 mark in Sun Belt play.
Several Blue Raiders had record-setting years, including three 1,000-point scorers: Elie, Rowe and Jones. Coach Rick Insell also became the school’s all-time winningest coach for the women’s program.
Middle Tennessee’s women’s basketball team closed out its final year in the Sun Belt with a regular season and tournament title.
You can find more details on the Blue Raiders’ 2013 NCAA efforts here.
— MT Athletics (GoBlueRaiders.com)