"Huge. Big time," said senior forward Shyra Ely when asked about Dosty's impact on the game. "She had a double-double in 15 minutes. I think she brought a lot of energy off the bench. She was able to give us momentum, give us energy in the game. I think this will really give her a lot of confidence, momentum going into the next game."
Ely also had a double-double – 17 points and 10 rebounds – and was the leading scorer for Tennessee. DePaul's Khara Smith was the leading scorer for the Blue Demons with 18 points. She also had eight rebounds.
DePaul, 6-2, appeared ready to knock out Tennessee, 5-2, in the first 20 minutes after building a 15-point lead, 40-25,with only 1:39 left in the half. But DePaul couldn't score again before the half ended, and Tennessee cut the lead to nine, 40-31, after a Dosty put-back and free throw and a lay-up and free throw by Brittany Jackson. Nicky Anosike stuffed DePaul's next shot, and Tennessee went into the locker room with momentum.
It was all the Lady Vols had as they were behind on the scoreboard and shooting only 32.4 percent from the field. They had 11 turnovers to only five assists, and the Blue Demons had out-rebounded them by one, 26-25.
At halftime, coach Pat Summitt challenged Hornbuckle, who admitted after the game to being extremely nervous.
"Alexis started out playing on her heels and finished the game on her toes," Summitt said. "That's it in a nutshell. She was backing up on defense. She was just too tentative. In all fairness to Alexis I thought she was able to turn it around in the course of the game. A lot of times in my career I had players who couldn't do that. You had to wait until the next time you played. … I thought she was very aggressive. That would be a mindset. I made up my mind before she made up her mind. So she made up her mind, it happened."
After the game Summitt cited the play of Jackson, who had 10 of her 14 points in the last five minutes of the first half; Dosty, whose directive was to rebound but who scored as well; Dominique Redding, who took two defensive charges when the Lady Vols needed the ball back; Shanna Zolman, who scored one point from the line but found other ways to contribute on the floor; and Sidney Spencer, who Summitt told to shoot and attack the basket.
"This is as hard as growing up on a dairy farm and milking cows," Summitt said. "It's hard work. We had to work really hard for this win, but I thought a lot of players stepped up. Our play off the bench was key. You can start with Brittany Jackson, made a lot of things happen and kept scoring some points for us in the first half. Sybil Dosty was huge for us in both halves. Dominique Redding, two charges, five points at a key time.
"As far as I'm concerned the starters did a lot of good things. You take Shanna Zolman not scoring. Last year she may have not contributed in other areas. She was a solid leader for us and got other people the basketball. A lot of big-play people. Spencer, I challenged her constantly throughout the game, and she responded well for us. It was good to see a lot of people step up and make plays. It didn't fall on any one player's shoulders."
Five players were in double figures – Dosty, Ely, Jackson, Hornbuckle and Spencer, who had 11. Tennessee also won the rebounding battle, 51-44, after wearing down DePaul in the second half. As a team, they shot 57.1 percent from the field in the second half and finished at 43.5 percent for the game.
The Lady Vols' strength on the boards was the difference in the outcome, according to DePaul coach Doug Bruno.
"They kicked our (rears) on the board in the second half," Bruno said.
He was pleased with the team's "poise and resolve" in the first half, especially on offense.
"Obviously Tennessee made us ugly in the second half with their defense and their rebounding," Bruno said. "It's vintage Tennessee beating people on the glass. They did a good job defending us as well."
DePaul was without senior guard Charlene Smith, who injured her knee Monday and is likely out for the season. The Blue Demons don't have a deep bench, and the physical play took its toll as three players fouled out, including freshman forward Erin Carney, one of their best rebounders, who had 10 boards in only 17 minutes of play.
Carney's fifth foul came at the 12:20 mark of the second half when she fouled Dosty on a put-back. That tied the game at 48-48, and Ely scored on another put-back a minute later to put Tennessee up 50-48. Tennessee never trailed again.
DePaul senior guard Jenni Dant normally would have drawn the assignment of guarding Ely, whom she guarded when both were in high school (Ely in Indianapolis; Dant in Illinois) and also in college, but Bruno moved Dant to Zolman, who he felt had really hurt the Blue Demons in the past. The strategy worked as Zolman struggled all night to get open, but Bruno noted the play of Jackson – who scored 33 percent of Tennessee's points in the first half – and Hornbuckle, who came to life in the second half. DePaul simply didn't have answers for all of them and couldn't keep Tennessee off the offensive boards in the second half.
"Some of our young people don't value the simple concept of this game: No shot, bad shot, one shot. It's pretty simple, but it's simple to say, not so simple to do," said Bruno, who cited the loss of Carney as a key factor.
"They made their run," junior forward Khara Smith said. "The second-shot factor was big. They were going to the boards hard."
Smith and Ely fought for a rebound under the basket in the waning minutes of the game. Ely came away with the ball and the Band-aid off Smith's finger.
"I tried to give it back to her," Ely said of the Band-aid, not the ball.
Six of Dosty's 11 rebounds were on the offensive end.
"Right place, right time," Summitt said. "She's been the most-efficient player. She's really stepped in and made a difference in every game she's played in (except Duke). We need a presence inside, and certainly she posed a big presence today for DePaul."
Dosty benefited from the 10-day break between the Duke and DePaul games during which the team endured a tough series of practices, both in duration and drill work.
"Definitely we had a hard week of practice," Dosty said. "I felt after practice then we have to play well. I don't want to go through that ever again.
"I wanted to bring a lot of energy when I came off the bench. I haven't gotten too many chances to do that so whenever I get my chance I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm not going to go out there and try to do much. When coach put me in, she just told me to rebound so that's what I was doing. That was my mindset when I went in the first time.
"We have to have rebounders and people that can score on the inside. Tonight that was me. It could be Tye (Fluker) and Nicky next game, but tonight I had to step up for the team."
Another freshman, Hornbuckle, made a significant contribution, but it took until the second half for her game to arrive. It was worth the wait. Hornbuckle was on the floor when the second half started but was pulled within the first two minutes for a one-on-one chat with Summitt.
"She looked me dead in my eyes and said: ‘I need you on the floor.' That just clicked a switch," Hornbuckle said. "I just knew I had to leave everything, play outside of myself and play for my team. There were definitely some big-time nerves going on. First collegiate start. I was trying to calm myself down."
Hornbuckle was thrust into the starting lineup after the unexpected announcement Tuesday that senior Loree Moore would miss up to a month of the season because she needed a tonsillectomy.
She punctuated the game with a rebound in the closing seconds, a behind-the-back dribble while dashing down the court and a drive to the hoop with one second on the clock. The ball fell through just as the horn sounded, and an ecstatic Hornbuckle ran down the sideline and leaped in the air.
"Coach said I grew up tonight. And I had to," Hornbuckle said.
From her post-game remarks it sounds like Dosty, who was asked if she had earned more playing time, has it all figured out, too.
"I hope so. I had a good game, but tomorrow in practice I have to bring it as well," Dosty said. "That's what I'm learning the most is that practice matters more than games."