The six seed Tennessee Lady Vols (21-9, 10-6 SEC) made a comeback to defeat the 11 seed Missouri Tigers (9-22, 5-11 SEC) 64-51 in their first game of the SEC Tournament. Although this was Tennessee’s first game of the tournament, it was Missouri’s second after their win over Ole Miss.
The Lady Vols struggled early, going down 9-2 to start the game. They did not make a single field goal until Rennia Davis hit a long 2-point jumpshot with 5:20 left in the first quarter. The shot cut the lead to 9-4 and ended the zero-for-eight shooting performance Tennessee opened the game with.
Missouri continued to take advantage of Tennessee’s struggles and went up 17-8 off of a Hayley Frank 3-pointer with 33 seconds left. The Lady Vols responded with two free throws by Jaiden McCoy to go into the second quarter down 17-10. Tennessee only shot 3-for-14 in the quarter while also committing 4 turnovers.
“We came out, started a little slow. I felt like Missouri was going to be really tough to beat today because of their style of play, how they play. They’re well-coached,” Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said.
Missouri struck first in the second quarter with a layup, but Kasiyahna Kushkituah scored five straight points to counter. The Tigers then went on a 9-0 run to stretch their lead all the way out to 28-15. The Lady Vols went on a 7-0 run of their own to cut the lead down to six with 3:29 left in the half.
The half ended at 34-26 in favor of Missouri. A key difference in the first half was the Tigers’ 3-point shooting. Missouri shot 5-for-12 from beyond the arc compared to Tennessee, who shot just 0-for-2.
“The locker room was actually the opposite of quiet at halftime, to say the least,” Davis said. “I think the message was well-received. We came out in the second half and played better.”
Tennessee stormed back to begin the second half. They opened up the third quarter with an 8-0 run to tie the game up at 34-34 within the first three minutes. The Lady Vols were able to take their first lead of the game at 41-40 off of a Rae Burrell free throw. This was part of an over-two-minute span where Burrell scored nine unanswered points by herself. Tennessee continued this momentum, turning it into a 15-0 run to end the quarter with the addition of baskets from Kushkituah, Jordan Horston and Jazmine Massengill.
The Lady Vols finished the third quarter with a 49-40 lead. Burrell scored 12 of her 16 points in the quarter. Tennessee also held Missouri to just 1-of-14 shooting in the quarter and only four points.
Tennessee was able to hold on throughout the fourth quarter. Missouri could only get within six points with 4:52 left, and the Lady Vols went on to win 64-51.
“I think, just, we really locked in with our defense. We had good communication. We had good offensive rebounds. We started attacking a little bit more, getting to the free-throw line,” Burrell said about the second half. “Things like that really got our momentum going.”
The Lady Vols leading scorers were Burrell with 16, Davis with 15 and Kushkituah with 13. They also added 4, 9 and 7 rebounds to their stat-line, respectively.
Tennessee will play the third seeded Kentucky Wildcats on Friday in the quarterfinals. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. and will be aired on the SEC Network.
Edited by Christian Knox and Ciera Noe
Featured photo courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org