NEW ORLEANS — With less than a minute remaining in the Tulane women’s basketball team’s 80-69 victory against Southern Miss on Sunday, senior guard Olivia Grayson checked out of the game to a standing ovation.
Grayson — who will graduate as the only Green Wave player in program history to place in the school’s top 10 in points, rebounds, assists and steals — has become a legend to fans and picked up the nickname “Turtle.” One woman in Sunday’s crowd in Devlin Fieldhouse wore a turtle costume, and several fans sported T-shirts spelling out her nickname — with Tulane’s logo as the first letter.
For Grayson and the other three seniors — forwards Janique Kautsky and Brittany McDonald and guard Tyria Snow — Sunday’s matchup was more than just the final home game of the season. And that made the victory especially sweet.
“It’s real special,” Grayson said after posting 14 points, eight rebounds, six assists and two steals. “It just shows how much the team really appreciates you, because they played awesome today. There was an extra ‘oomph’ in everybody’s game today, and it was just real special to go out this way.”
“It’s always great to do something for our seniors,” said sophomore forward Tiffany Dale, who netted a career-high and team-leading 22 points to go with seven rebounds and three steals. “Knowing that we could get them a win in their last home game was definitely always something good to do.”
After a pregame ceremony honoring the seniors, the Wave grabbed control: Tulane conceded the Eagles the initial basket, then took a 4-2 edge about two minutes in and never relinquished the lead.
In the first half, the Wave (22-6, 11-4 Conference USA) stretched its advantage to as many as 14 points before settling for a 36-27 halftime lead. Southern Miss (13-15, 5-10) put a scare into the Wave to start the second half, posting a 7-0 run to cut its deficit to two less than four minutes in. But the Wave regrouped and did something it has had trouble managing at home all season — hold on to a second-half lead.
“Southern Miss has some very explosive players, and they can really get going,” coach Lisa Stockton said. “I thought we did a nice job of being patient on offense and still taking good shots. We wanted shots in transition, which we got. The more (the Eagles) pressured us, we were able to get some layups, which really took the pressure off of our defense. (USM) got hot for a while there, and we responded pretty well.”
Jamierra Faulkner paced Southern Miss with 26 points on 11-of-24 shooting. Jerontay Clemons added 13, and Tanecka Carey had 12.
The Green Wave has won four straight heading into its regular-season finale, Friday at defending conference champion UTEP. The C-USA tournament starts March 13 in Tulsa, Okla.
The players said their winning streak has given them confidence moving forward, but also enhancing their outlook was a convincing triumph on Senior Day.
“I can’t even tell you how much it means,” said sophomore guard Danielle Blagg, who had 21 points and eight rebounds. “We just really wanted to do it for the seniors. They’re such a huge part of this team.”