ESTERO, Fla. – Middle Tennessee used a dominating 62-48 victory over Mississippi State to collect a third consecutive win and capture the inaugural Gulf Coast Showcase Championship inside Germain Arena on Sunday evening.
The Blue Raiders (4-3) trailed by only one early in the first half before belting a 20-4 run to close out the opening half. Mississippi State (7-1) could not find any momentum as the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the 2013-14 season.
Naismith and Wade Watch List candidate Ebony Rowe scored 25 points and reeled in 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double this season. Rowe reached double figures for the 100th time in her career, tying Jennifer McFall and Priscilla Robinson for third all-time. The senior was tabbed the Gulf Coast Showcase MVP after posting 22.6 points and 12 rebounds per game in the three-game tournament.
Olivia Jones finished the day with 11 rebounds, while scoring four points. Jones was also named to the five-man All-Tournament team. Shanice Cason reached double figures for the fourth time this season with 14 points. The junior was 5-of-9 from the field with three assists and two steals. Adding nine points, KeKe Stewart finished the day 3-of-5 with four rebounds, an assist and a block.
Offensively, Middle Tennessee shot 45 percent from the field (22-of-49). MT had 43 rebounds to MSU’s 34. For the fourth time, a Blue Raider opponent shot less than 30 percent from the field. MSU made 16-of-55 for 29.1 percent.
Both teams swapped points early on. Mississippi State took a one-point edge briefly before the Raiders finished the half outscoring the Bulldogs 20-4. The Blue Raider defense took over forcing MSU to just one basket in a 13-minute span. MT used six points from Cason down the stretch to build a 10-point lead. A Janay Brinkley bucket in the final seconds put the Raiders up 30-15 at the break.
In the first half, MT out-manned MSU on the boards 26-23 while shooting 38 percent (11-of-29). The Bulldogs were 5-of-28 for 18 percent in the opening frame. MT’s Rowe had nine points and eight rebounds, while Cason added eight points.
Blue Raiders busted it open to 19 early in the second half thanks to a pair of layups from Rowe. MT extended its lead to as many as 25 in the second half. MT won a third consecutive game and went unbeaten in its first regular season tournament since the 2010 UTSA Holiday Classic. On Wednesday, the Blue Raiders will take on Austin Peay in an 11 a.m. matchup in Clarksville.
For the second time this season, Middle Tennessee had a double-digit lead against an SEC opponent (12 vs. UT and 15 vs. MSU) … Ebony Rowe reached double figures for the 100th time in her career, tying Jennifer McFall and Priscilla Robinson … MT is now 5-3 all-time against MSU and 1-1 under Rick Insell … Middle Tennessee has won three tournament titles under head coach Rick Insell (The 2006 Subway Classic, 2010 UTSA Holiday Classic and 2013 Gulf Coast Showcase) … Conference USA swept the Gulf Coast Showcase this season as Louisiana Tech won the men’s tournament and Middle Tennessee the women’s … Rowe moved to fifth all-time with 738 made field goals