After Friday’s game, MU women’s basketball coach Cindy Stein made a promise.
“Absolutely,” Stein confidently said when asked if her team would improve upon a sluggish 79-51 victory over Arkansas Pine-Bluff on Friday. “We always play better in the second game.”
Saturday night her team made her look prophetic, as it defeated Murray State 100-55 in the final of the 28th annual State Farm Tiger Classic. The Tigers (6-2) held a Murray State (1-4) team that scored 100 points Friday against Alcorn State to a mere 21-of-79 from the field.
“We shut them down really well early,” said Stein, whose team allowed only 17 first-half points. “I thought the main thing for us defensively was making sure that we were on their shooters. We didn’t give them a lot of good looks.”
What a difference a day can make for a Tiger team that came out sluggish and flat on Friday. While it took the Tigers 30 minutes to find their energy and get into a rhythm Friday, energy was evident from the moment the Tigers stepped onto the floor, and it translated into a high level of play.
“Last night, it didn’t seem like we came out with a lot of energy,” said senior guard and tournament MVP LaToya Bond. “Today we just jumped out from the start. We had great energy, and we just pulled away from there.”
The Tigers’ ability to maintain a high tempo even as they began to pull away from the Racers may have been more impressive than anything else.
There was Christelle N’Garsanet sliding on her side across midcourt to grab a loose ball midway through the first half though her team had already built a 20-point lead.
With just over four minutes left in the second half and the game comfortably in hand, Carlynn Savant went after the Racers’ Erica Gordian before the officials whistled for a jump ball.
“It was more fun, because we had more energy,” said Savant, whose 19 points scored set a new career high for the junior forward. “Yesterday, we didn’t come in with a lot of energy. Today was much better.”
One incentive for maintaining that: reaching what has been an elusive 100-point mark in recent years. Fans obviously knew the team was on the brink of scoring 100, as the noise in Mizzou Arena steadily increased over the last few minutes. And from the two-minute mark until the final seconds, the Tiger bench looked a jack-in-the box, springing up each time a Tiger player took a shot. Two free throws by sophomore Kassie Drew with 23 seconds remaining pushed the score to the century mark.
“I mean, I don’t really remember the last time we ever got to 100 points in my career,” said Bond, who must not have remembered that she was on the Tiger team that scored 103 points against Alcorn State in the first round of the 2003 State Farm Tiger Classic. “It was a great feeling.”
This was the 19th time the Tigers have taken home the Tiger Classic title. It is the second consecutive tournament title for the team after it took home the Pittsburgh Thanksgiving Tournament title a week ago. And for the second time, Bond earned MVP honors.
“Bringing home all the MVPs is indicative of what she can do as a player,” Savant said of her teammate, who scored 34 points over the two-day span. “She’s a great leader, and she always knows what’s going on out on the court.”
Asked where all the hardware was going to go, Bond grinned and replied: “Um, somewhere in my room. Wherever I have space.”