Big Blue Rising, indeed! The Tennessee State University Lady Tigers are 2015 Ohio Valley Conference Champions, winning three exciting games in three days of Music City Madness at Municipal Auditorium. Led by the terrific trio of Rachel Allen, Chelsea Hudson and tournament MVP Brianna Lawrence, TSU is returning to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament for the first time in 20 years.
The ladies will learn where they will go and who they will play on Monday night. You are all invited to join them in the celebration inside the Floyd-Payne Campus Center Forum beginning at 5 pm. If you can’t make it out, you can watch the Selection Show on ESPN at 6 pm.
At 18-12, the Tigers are projected as a #16-seed. The #1-seeds are expected to be Connecticut, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland. So the Tigers will likely face one of those four on that team’s home floor. But these ladies have already overcome tremendous odds to get to the ‘big dance’ in the first place. The Lady Tigers were the #3 seed in the OVC, but they were more than up for the task.
In the Quarterfinals, Tennessee State was down by as many as 10 in the first half, closing the half on a 7-0 run to cut the Morehead State lead to 35-32. The Eagles opened the lead back up to as many as nine in the second half, up by eight at the 12:23 mark before the Big Blue got going. TSU got hot from that point, outscoring Morehead 35-12 to win 81-66. Allen scored 20 while dishing out six assists with only one turnover and going 5-for-5 from the three, Hudson had 20 points and 10 rebounds, Lawrence added 19 with 7 boards.
In the Semifinals the trend of strong second halves continued for TSU, shooting 53% in the second half against Morehead. In this game against second-seeded SIU-Edwardsville, the Lady Tigers shot 54%. While Hudson scored 17 on this day, it was Jayda Johnson who really sparked TSU with 17 points and six rebounds in 26 minutes off the bench. Allen played the entire game at the point contributing seven assists to only three turnovers as the Tigers were just more solid all-around in the 71-59 victory.
The championship game was a supreme test, facing #1-seed and undefeated in conference play UT-Martin. Tennessee State was given little chance going in, but they knew they were capable, playing them to a 64-58 game on January 28 at Gentry. Once again the Lady Tigers got stellar point guard play from Allen, six assists to one turnover. The Tigers were tenacious from the start, racing out to a 19-7 lead. UT-Martin went on a 17-4 run to take a 24-23 lead just before halftime but an Allen layup and a Hudson three-point play led to a 28-26 halftime advantage for TSU.
A pair of Lawrence threes got the Tigers going in the second half, but UT-Martin later went on a 10-0 run with her out of the game to take a 43-37 lead. The Tigers just would not take ‘no’ for an answer, clawing their way back to a 53-53 tie. A wild 1:15 stretch epitomized the run for TSU as they got five shots and four offensive rebounds on one possession, but could not score.
The game went into overtime tied at 53. Allen and Lawrence provided threes in the extra session, and the defense held off the Skyhawks for a memorable 64-60 triumph and the championship for the Big Blue.