By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
BUIES CREEK, N.C. – Despite a gritty effort over 40 minutes of back-and-forth action, the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team was unable to come away with a victory in its Women's Basketball Invitational quarterfinal matchup with Campbell Monday night, bringing to an end its resurgent 2018-19 season.
Tech wraps its campaign with a 22-11 record, an increase of 15 wins from 2017-18, which equates to the second-biggest turnaround in NCAA Division I this season.
In the process, the Golden Eagles amassed 12 home wins and 12 wins in Ohio Valley Conference play, which are the program's best marks since the 2004-05 and 2012-13 seasons, respectively. They also racked up nine wins on the road, the best since 2010-11.
Tech's postseason was noteworthy as well, as this year's team posted the program's first win in the OVC Tournament since 2013, and its first national postseason win since 2006.
Monday night, however, Tech ran into a Campbell team that shot 53.3 percent from 3-point range (8-of-15) and 47.2 from the field overall. Hayley Barber spurred the attack for the Fighting Camels, scoring a game-high 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting and 2-of-3 from long range.
"I thought the difference in the game was their 3-point shooting," said head coach Kim Rosamond. "We gave up 24 points from the 3-point line, and it seemed like every time they needed a big basket, they knocked down a big three."
After Tech mounted a 7-2 run that tied the game at 57 with just under six minutes remaining, Campbell scored five consecutive points to go up 62-57, restoring its five-point advantage with a triple from Caroline Bowns with under four minutes left.
A Kesha Brady free throw and an Anacia Wilkinson layup made it 62-60 at the 2:32 mark, but again it was Bowns, who hit another three to push CU's lead to 66-60 with 54 seconds left. Campbell's exceptional defense stymied Tech the rest of the way.
"I thought we rebounded the ball well, and did some good things tonight," said Rosamond. "I thought we played hard. We just missed some bunnies in the paint that we don't normally miss, and then we went 4-of-14 from (3-point range).
"They are one of the best defensive teams in the nation, and we knew we were going to have to execute extremely well on the offensive end. I thought at times we did that, but we didn't do it consistently enough to get the win here."
While the loss puts the 2018-19 season in the books, Rosamond feels the experience from the four tournament games her team played (two OVC Tournament, two WBI) will serve as an enormous benefit going forward.
"It was huge," she said. "To be able to go from seven wins to 22 wins, get in the postseason, get a win in the postseason, and know what March feels like will be a huge positive for us going forward. This experience has been tremendous."
"The future of Tennessee Tech women's basketball is very promising, and while this is a disappointing outcome tonight, it certainly does not take away or define our season in any way. We will build on this year, and I think special things are ahead for this program."
As she's done several times this season, Anacia Wilkinson made a tremendous impact off the bench for Tech, scoring 11 points with nine rebounds and eight blocked shots.
The eight blocks give Wilkinson 92 for her redshirt junior campaign, making her one of just six players in Division I to reach 90 or more rejections this year. As the Tech single-season record holder, Wilkinson now has an overwhelming cushion of more than 30 blocks over the second-best mark (Kayla Brewer, 61, 2013-14).
"I'm just really proud of 'Naci" said Rosamond. "I think she is an anchor for our defense, and when she's not out there, you know it. We gave up some drives tonight, but when she was out there on the floor, she had our back every single time."
"I think this year is something 'Naci can really build on going into her senior year, we just need to keep her healthy. For the first time in her career we've had her for a full season, and we've gotten a glimpse of what she's able to do."
Kentoria Alexander led the Golden Eagles with 12 points on 5-of-11 from the field, and also contributed five rebounds and a team-high four assists. It was the fifth time this year that the senior guard led her team in scoring, and the 15th time she set the pace for assists.
She finishes her final season in a Tech uniform with 136 helpers to 86 turnovers for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6.
Abby Buckner logged her seventh game in double figures, tallying 11 points on 4-of-7 from the floor while playing a team-high 36 minutes. She joined Alexander as one of two players to hit multiple threes in the game, and grabbed seven rebounds, which was third behind Wilkinson's nine and Brady with eight.
Brady turned in a solid all-around game as well, scoring nine points to go with her eight boards, along with three assists and two steals.
Senior forward Lacy Cantrell scored six points and pulled down three rebounds. The Knoxville native showcased a soft scoring touch in the paint all year long, and finishes the season as the team leader in field goal percentage at .579.
Rosamond concluded with a reflection on what made the 2018-19 team so special.
"It is really hard in this day and age to get a group of 13 young women to buy into something bigger than themselves," she said. "I have to credit these kids – they did that. They were all stars in their roles; even the kids who didn't get as many minutes or don't score as many points, we don't win 22 games without them because they helped get us ready each and every game and made us better."
"They were a great bunch to coach, and this team will always have a place in my heart."
Photo by Bennett Scarborough