TSU Basketball Preview, Part Two – The Lady Tigers

 Sitting (L-R) Brianna Lawrence, Michelle Cox, Diamond Beatty, Rachel Allen, Zuri Frost, Jemilah Leonard, Alexis Haddock; Standing (L-R) Tia Wooten, Jayda Johnson, LaTeasha Hill, I'mani Davis, Samantha Palma, Chelsea Hudson, Markayla Parker, Briana Morrow (Photo: TSU Athletics)

Sitting (L-R) Brianna Lawrence, Michelle Cox, Diamond Beatty, Rachel Allen, Zuri Frost, Jemilah Leonard, Alexis Haddock; Standing (L-R) Tia Wooten, Jayda Johnson, LaTeasha Hill, I’mani Davis, Samantha Palma, Chelsea Hudson, Markayla Parker, Briana Morrow (Photo: TSU Athletics)

The defending Ohio Valley Conference tournament champions return to the court after an historic 2014-15 run that saw Tennessee State University win the OVC title for the first time in 20 years. When TSU won an OVC Championship in 1994-95, Darlene Crawley-Morrow was a starter on that team. In 2015, her daughter Briana Morrow won a championship with the Lady Tigers 20 years later.

The Lady Tigers return two starters from last year’s team including junior I’mani Davis, who averaged 9.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Brianna Lawrence, the lone senior, finished the season with an average of 8.9 ppg while knocking down a team-best 46 three-pointers. She was named the MVP of the OVC Tournament after averaging 16.7 ppg in three games and scoring 22 points in the championship.

The Lady Tigers closed out the 2014-15 regular season on a seven-game winning streak before claiming three straight victories, including an upset over four-time defending champ UT Martin in the OVC tournament. The 10 consecutive wins was a program record; the previous record was eight consecutive wins when the 1997-98 team won eight straight contests. TSU won the 2015 OVC Tournament Championship after wins over Morehead State, SIUE and UT Martin. Both SIUE and UTM were higher seeds than TSU.

(l-r) Larry Joe Inman, Jasbriell Swain,Josh Cooperwood, Chelsia Lymon, and Le'Coe Willingham

(l-r) Larry Joe Inman, Jasbriell Swain,Josh Cooperwood, Chelsia Lymon, and Le’Coe Willingham

The Lady Tigers are led by fourth year head coach and Hall of Famer Larry Joe Inman, who was named the head women’s basketball coach in April 2012. In his third season as the Lady Tigers’ head coach, he led the team to an OVC Tournament Championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. 2014-15 also saw Inman reach a milestone as he recorded his 500th career win.

Second year women’s basketball assistant coach Le’Coe Willingham brings a wealth of professional experience to the Lady Tiger staff. Willingham played ten years in the WBNA and won two championships (Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm). Former TSU men’s basketball standout Josh Cooperwood was director of operations for women’s basketball before becoming an assistant coach in October, joining fellow assistant coach Chelsia Lymon and graduate assistant Jasbriell Swain.

TSU returns seven letter winners from last season and adds seven newcomers. Returning are 5-7 Jr. guard Diamond Beatty (1.7 ppg), 6-0 Jr. forward I’mani Davis (9.8), 5-8 So. guard Michelle Cox (1.1), 5-7 Sr. guard Brianna Lawrence (8.9), 6-1 So. guard/forward Markayla Parker (0.0), 5-11 So. guard/forward Tia Wooten (2.0), 6-2 So. forward Samantha Palma (1.3), 6-0 Jr. forward Jayda Johnson (7.7), and 5-5 Jr. guard Maxine Beard (0.0).

Newcomers include 6-4 Fr. forward Tiana Parker, 5-8 Fr. guard Naomi Bolasingh, 6-1 Fr. forward Jordan Brightwell, 6-5 Fr. center Tyesha Hood, 6-1 Fr. forward Franceska Brown, and 5-9, Fr. guard Asia Sims.

TSU fell to the University of Kentucky, 97-59, in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. That NCAA championship series game ended TSU’s season with an 18-13 overall record, the program’s first winning record since 2008-09, and secured them a winning OVC record for the third straight year.