No. 20/22 Middle Tennessee used double-double efforts from Ebony Rowe and Olivia Jones to down FIU, 64-57, on Friday to advance to the Conference USA Championship game.
The Blue Raiders (28-4) overcame a seven point first half deficit, while holding FIU All-American Jerica Coley in check. A fueled FIU (15-18) comeback fell short, as the Blue Raiders clinched their 11th conference tournament title game in the 12 past seasons. MT will take on the winner of the (3) UTEP / (2) Southern Miss game, which proceeded the Raiders semifinal contest.
Rowe went 11-of-15 from the field, scoring 25 points and pulling in 14 rebounds. She filled out the stat line with an assist, block and steal. Jones managed her third double-double of the year with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Shanice Cason added eight points, while KeKe Stewart tacked on five.
Early momentum shifted to the Panthers, as FIU took an 8-3 lead within the first four minutes. The Panthers stretched their lead to seven with 11 minutes remaining. However, Cason responded with a trey to cut MT's shortfall to four.
The Blue Raiders went on a 13-0 run to take a 22-18 advantage over the Panthers at the 7:23 mark. The Panthers used free throws from Coley and a Katrina Epnere triple to cut MT's lead to 24-23 with 3:33 left to play.
The Blue Raiders closed the half expanding their edge to 32-25 at the break. Jones led all scorers with 10 points, while Rowe had eight rebounds. Coley led FIU with nine points.
Middle Tennessee shot 39.3 percent (11-of-28) from the field, while FIU shot 32 percent (8-of-25). MT had outmanned the Panthers on the boards, 22-15.
A second half surge propelled MT to a 10-point lead within the first five minutes of the second half. FIU chipped away to cut the deficit to 43-39 with less than 12 minutes remaining.
Rowe's jumper at 5:37 extended the Blue Raiders' lead to 13 points. The Eagles went on a 12-4 run to make it a five point game with 55 seconds. Four made free throws down the stretch gave the Blue Raiders their 10th straight victory.
Middle Tennessee shot 40 percent from the field, making 22-of-54. The Blue Raiders out-manned FIU, 44-40, on the boards. The Panthers were held to 29 percent shooting, going 18-of-62 from the floor. Coley finished the game significantly under her 29 point average, finishing with 10.
Saturday's C-USA Championship game will tip at 7 p.m. CT. Blue Raider Sports Network coverage begins at 6:30pm here on WGNS.