Lady Vols open SEC with win over Missouri
Tennessee (11-2, 1-0) secured its first SEC win in the league opener against Missouri (10-4, 0-1) in a game marked by abysmal shooting – until Andraya Carter got on track – and even worse officiating. A late Friday night crowd of 9,570 expressed its displeasure with the officiating crew in the first minute of the game when Isabelle Harrison got her first foul and was in full throat when she was ejected from the game with 2:56 left to play. Harrison was joined inexplicably by No. 1 Nia Moore – when it was No. 11 Cierra Burdick who left the bench to wrap up Harrison before the confrontation escalated – and Missouri’s Juanita Robinson, despite a lengthy video review. Harrison and Robinson were assessed Flagrant-2 technical fouls, which carry an automatic ejection but no game suspensions in the absence of fighting. Moore was assessed a technical for leaving the bench and also ejected. Burdick, who was in the paint with a grip on Harrison in plain view of three officials, wasn't assessed any violation. The melee occurred when Harrison had position in the paint to grab a rebound off a missed Jordan Reynolds’ jumper with 2:58 remaining in the game and the Lady Vols leading 58-48. Robinson had a hand on Harrison’s neck and had her hooked and held with the other arm. A frustrated Harrison, who had four fouls to that point in seven minutes of play, reacted forcefully and players on both teams intervened. Burdick sprinted past several Missouri players to get to Harrison. A player who leaves the bench is automatically ejected, but the crew, despite watching the replays, sent Moore out with Harrison, while the crowd booed and shouted at the officials, who had angered fans all evening with their whistles. “It is a physical game; anyone that tells you basketball isn’t a physical game they are not being truthful,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “They just got tangled up, and emotions got involved. I think once they calmed down it was fine. “Izzy has to control that. We can’t have her possibly get a flagrant one, and get thrown out of the game for the next game. She was frustrated, didn’t have one of her better games but only played seven minutes so I would be frustrated, too.” The Lady Vols regrouped and closed out the win, keeping the lead in double digits for the final 63-53 win. “We knew we wanted to get that win for Izzy,” Andraya Carter said. “We knew she was having a rough night. Izzy has done so much for us in so many other games. This game doesn’t nullify what she’s done in the past. It won’t hurt what she’s going to do in the future. “We came together as a team. We knew we had to have her back and we got the win. That’s all that matters.” Harrison connected on a jumper 20 seconds into the game and picked up her second foul less than two minutes into the first half. Harrison has been an anchor for the Lady Vols – they went 6-0 in December when she returned from a knee injury and beat two top 10 teams – and Tennessee was out of sorts with the senior post parked on the bench. “You are taking out our go-to player and our energy player and she plays two minutes and has to sit,” Warlick said. “So it is tough, it is hard. It seemed like in the first half we never got into a good flow on our offense. She has to get touches and she didn’t get touches. We weren’t moving the ball and we didn’t stick to our game plan.” Tennessee started quick-shooting the basketball – Harrison picked up her second foul trying to get an offensive board – and didn’t connect very often. The Lady Vols trailed 25-21 at halftime after shooting 8-34 (23.5 percent) overall and 2-11 (18.2 percent) from the arc in the first 20 minutes. The Lady Vols flipped the script in the second half, courtesy of their pressure defense and the offense of Carter, who went 3-6 from the arc and led Tennessee with 16 points. “You’ve got to pick and choose when you play a team like Tennessee and roll the dice a little bit,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “Certainly we weren’t planning on her shooting 3-for-6 from the three-point line, but we did talk a lot about how great of a player she is. “I love her defense. I like the way she moves around the perimeter and does a little bit of everything. She knocked down a couple that definitely hurt us.” Carter’s work ethic has never been in question. She gets in the gym for extra shots. She started her scoring against the Tigers by getting to the rim. That allowed her to get some space at the arc and have time to set her feet. “I thought what helped Andraya was she got layups and she got put-backs so that built her confidence up to give her the confidence to step out and hit some threes,” Warlick said. “I was proud of her. She has put in the time. We have worked with her. I have worked with her. She deserves all the credit, she is putting in the time and getting up shots.” Carter has to be on the floor because of her defense – she sets the tone and harasses the opposing team. “She gets us going,” Warlick said. “She caused a lot of turnovers, we press and she was in the middle of pretty much everything. She is our best defender and we need her on the floor. If I didn’t play her just because she wasn’t scoring, then I am not doing what I say is important to us. “Andraya Carter is important to us because she gets down and plays defense, and she plays hard.” Carter set the tone on defense to open the second half and the result was a tie game, 25-25, after an Ariel Massengale jumper and a Carter drive to the rim. Both baskets were assisted by Jordan Reynolds. That was followed by a Missouri timeout two minutes into the second half, but Tennessee responded by forcing two turnovers and taking a 32-25 lead on a three by Reynolds. “We knew we needed stops,” Reynolds said. “Our defense does create our offense. When we’re having a great defensive game, our offense just comes easily. That’s what we need. We needed stops and focus on our defense.” The 11-0 run to open the second half gave the Lady Vols a lead they would never surrender. “We talked about it at halftime (that) Holly is challenging her kids,” Pingeton said. “They’re going to take it to that next level and as much as our girls wanted to think they were prepared for it, Tennessee’s next level is awfully good. “We had a hard time with our press offense, but give them credit. They’re long. They’re rangy.” The Tigers have two frontcourt players out with ACL injuries and rely on their guards. Pingeton challenged her team to fight after a loss to Missouri State, so the effort against the Lady Vols didn’t surprise the head coach. “I’m really proud of our players,” Pingeton said. “We came off a tough game a couple days ago and I just thought the way we competed at the beginning of the game was something for us to build on through the SEC. I’ve got a great group of girls that work extremely hard, very driven and very passionate about what’s on the front of their jerseys.” Missouri stayed within striking distance thanks to Morgan Eye, who was 5-10 from the arc, and Jordan Frericks, who led all scorers with 23 points and completed the double-double with 12 boards. Tennessee, however, never lost the lead, though it was slim at 49-44 with 5:53 left to play. That is when Carter went to work on both ends. She drained a three-pointer for 52-44 lead and followed that with a steal and a layup for 54-44 lead. Burdick got a theft of her own that ended with a layup by Bashaara Graves with Reynolds getting to the rim for a 58-46 lead with 3:39 left. Harrison entered with 3:22 remaining and was gone less than 30 seconds later after the confrontation with Robinson. “The coaches did a great job of keeping us together,” Massengale said. “Me being a point guard and leader of this team, I kept talking to the team about what we needed to do those last 2 minutes and 55 seconds. “With a team like Missouri that can shoot the ball extremely well, they’re never out of a game. I knew that we had to continue to keep getting stops and play the way we had the whole second half.” Tennessee had just two second-chance points in the first half but added 11 more in the second half off 25 total offensive boards. The Lady Vols won the overall glass battle, 47-35, with Graves grabbing 11 and Carter tallying seven boards. Tennessee got 22 points off Missouri’s 16 turnovers. The Lady Vols turned the ball over just 10 times, but the Tigers capitalized with 16 points. The Lady Vols shot better from the arc at 37.5 percent (9-24) than overall at 31.3 percent (21-67) and had 13 assists on 21 made baskets with Massengale and Reynolds tallying three each. Massengale joined Carter in double digits with 14 points, while Reynolds added 10. The box score doesn’t credit Tennessee with any blocks, but Carter snuffed a perimeter shooter late in the second half. Carter’s accompanying offense could not have arrived at a better time for Tennessee. “I’ve been working with Holly and Dean (Lockwood) before and after practices just fixing small things, having my elbow in and the ball leaving from my index finger,” Carter said. “I just told myself to shoot the way we’d been working on. They’ve helped me so much. They’ve taken extra time out of their day just to really help me get confidence in my shot and it worked.” The Lady Vols next travel to Vanderbilt – Harrison was harassed into foul trouble last season in Nashville and Tennessee left with a loss – and the SEC promises to be a grind all season. “Absolutely. I have said this all along, the SEC, it is a grind,” Warlick said. “It really is.” INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE Coach Holly Warlick Jordan Reynolds, Andraya Carter, Ariel Massengale Missouri Coach Robin Pingeton, Jordan Frericks, Morgan Eye
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