Tulsa's comeback bid against 25th-ranked Middle Tennessee fell short as the Blue Raiders held on for a 67-57 victory in front of 1,177 fans at the Donald W. Reynolds Center Saturday afternoon. Middle Tennessee improved to 18-3 on the season and 7-0 in Conference USA action, while the Hurricane fell to 10-8 overall and 4-3 in league play.
The Blue Raiders were led by Ebony Rowe's 18 points and 15 rebounds, as Tulsa's Kelsee Grovey had a game and career-high 23 points. Mariah Turner added 13 points and Ashley Clark chipped in with 10 points for the Hurricane.
Tulsa trailed by as many as 21 points in the first half and was down by 11 points at halftime. The Hurricane began the second half by scoring the first five points on a layup by Clark and a three-pointer by Grovey to cut the Middle Tennessee lead to six points in the first two minutes.
Six points was the closest Tulsa would get the rest of the second half, but only 11 points would be the largest deficit the Hurricane would face as well.
Two free throws by Mariah Turner at the 5:29 mark cut Middle Tennessee's lead to seven points. The Hurricane couldn't get any closer, though, as the Blue Raiders connected on six of eight free throws in the final 3:26 and Olivia Jones connected on a big three-pointer for an 11-point lead with 2:43 on the game clock.
"If we'd have played the first 15 minutes like we did the last 25 minutes we would have won by double digits," said Tulsa Head Coach Matilda Mossman. "We really got off to a slow start and I can't explain why we didn't attack early. We gave up offensive rebounds and put them at the free throw line, then they hit some big three's and we got down by 21. In the last five minutes of the first half, we changed how hard we were playing and how hard we were attacking and then we came back in the second half and played hard. I'll take that last 25 minutes of the game anytime."
The Blue Raiders grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and had 12-second chance points and 27 points off Tulsa turnovers. The Hurricane had the advantage in field goal percentage, connecting on 42-perecent of its shots, while Middle Tennessee shot just 32 percent. MTSU converted 23-of-33 free throws, while Tulsa just shot 19 freebies and knocked down 14.
Tulsa got off to a slow start, scoring just four points in the first five minutes of the game, as Middle Tennessee jumped out to a 12-4 lead at the 14:57 mark. The Blue Raiders took its first double-figure lead at the 13:31 mark with a 16-6 lead on a China Dow three-point basket.
Under the 10-minute mark, MTSU went ahead by 14 points, 23-9, at 9:29 and took its largest lead of 21 points at 35-14 with 4:02 remaining in the first half. In the final four minutes, the Hurricane outscored the Blue Raiders 12-2 and trailed by 11 points at halftime, 37-26, led by Grovey's seven points in that four-minute stretch.