EeTisha Riddle made the last basket before halftime Sunday in the Tiger Classic championship game.
She was the last Tigers player out of the tunnel to come back on the floor at the end of halftime, pausing briefly at a heater to bask in its warmth and chase the chill from her hands.
Riddle is also probably the last one on the Missouri women’s basketball team to seek out attention.
But after the Tigers’ first game in the tournament Saturday, Riddle, a center, was informed she had stolen the ball a career-high six times, in addition to her career-high 20 points.
“I didn’t know it was that many,” Riddle said with a shy but incredulous smile on her face. “That’s good.”
She scored 20 again on Sunday to lead the Tigers to their 20th Tiger Classic championship with a 76-54 win against Alabama A&M. During the tournament’s two days, Riddle combined for 40 points, 11 rebounds and seven steals. The performance was good enough to earn her the Tiger Classic Most Valuable Player award.
During interviews, Riddle will often stand with her shoulders slumped and her hands in her pockets. She’s a little timid. Until you get her talking. Or see her play in a game.
“I am a very emotional person,” Riddle said. “I am an emotional player. And I guess my role on the team is to be an emotional leader, because if they see me getting excited over a defensive play over a mistake or something...I am trying to make everybody get hyped and get excited about what’s going on.”
Riddle had just made her 20th point Sunday when Missouri coach Cindy Stein took her out for good with under nine minutes remaining. At the time, neither Stein nor Riddle was paying attention to stat lines.
“I looked up and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I did it again,’” Riddle said. “Normally when I look up, I look at fouls and see what number we’re at.”
With a secure lead over Alabama A&M, Riddle and the rest of the Tigers’ starters came out, allowing Stein to go deeper into her bench. Riddle had played most of the game Saturday and much of the game Sunday, warranting a break. Stein said if she had known Riddle’s scoring situation, she might have considered keeping her in the game to try for another career high.
“Anytime you’ve got a player that can get a career high, I think that that’s important,” Stein said. “At the same time, I know Tish is very unselfish. So I think she’s going to have plenty of times to do that again.”
Riddle said after the game that she really didn’t care about her stats. She only cared that her teammates got their deserved minutes on the court. After playing in the shadow of last season’s star center Christelle N’Garsanet, Riddle said she is pleased that the offense is working and her shots are going in.
“I’m just happy to be that force in the middle that everyone on the outside was worried about since we lost such a great player in Christelle,” Riddle said.
In one minute of play in the first half, Riddle, on her dominant left side of the basket, was able to get three layups over a shorter Alabama A&M team. Bulldogs coach Altherias Warmley said her team was used to playing taller opponents, but that Missouri, especially Riddle, attacked aggressively in the paint as her team lost its mid-game momentum.
“For some reason, our help side wasn’t there, and she was able to score a little easier than we wanted her to,” Warmley said. “But she played hard. She’s the type of post player that you want to see do the things she’s doing. She’s doing a great job for Missouri.”
Riddle was working on homework for her senior capstone course in Communications when she was announced as MVP at the close of the consolation game. The award included a duffle bag and a Nike watch. With a humble and modest air about her, Riddle was struggling to find words.
“I don’t expect nothing like this,” she said. “I don’t even have any words. It’s crazy.”
CONSOLATION: Eastern Illinois beat Creighton, 81-71, for third place in the Tiger Classic.
The Panthers’ Rachel Galligan scored 27 to take her weekend total to 47.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Missouri’s Carlynn Savant and Alyssa Hollins were named to the Tiger Classic All-Tournament team.
Savant had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the tournament. After a quiet Saturday with only two points, Hollins bounced back to score 18 on Sunday. Christian Malone of Alabama A&M, Ally Thrall of Creighton, and Rachel Galligan of Eastern Illinois were also named to the all-tournament team.