Tulane beats Sam Houston State in WNIT

NEW ORLEANS — In the days leading up to the Tulane women’s basketball first-round WNIT game against Sam Houston on Thursday night, Green Wave senior captain Olivia Grayson stressed that her squad could make a deep run in the postseason tourney because of the team’s deep bench and ability to get contributions from just about everyone.

Exactly how far that depth will take the Wave in the WNIT remains to be seen, but on Thursday at Devlin Fieldhouse, it got the team into the second round by guiding the Wave to a 65-57 victory over the Sam Houston.

Eleven Tulane players scored, and every Wave player who got in the game pulled down at least one rebound. Senior reserve forward Brittany McDonald, for example, racked up seven points, while sophomore forward Adesuwa Ebomwonyi came off the bench to lead the Green Wave with eight rebounds.

And, freshman center Chinwe Duru became a looming defensive presence under the basket and led the team with two of the Wave’s nine blocks. In addition, Tulane coach Lisa Stockton said the late-game substitution of freshman Tierra Jones further bolstered the Wave defense.

“It’s just a testament to the kind of team we’ve had all year,” Grayson said. “We just have a lot of players who can contribute. If we take one player out of the game, we can bring another one in, and they’ll step up.”

Senior forward Janique Kautsky agreed.

“Coach always tells us to use our depth to our advantage, and we did that,” Kautsky said. “We ran on them, they got tired, and we were able to use everyone. Everyone was able to contribute to let us pull ahead.”

Of course, the Tulane starters did their part as well. Kautsky and Grayson led the Green Wave in scoring with 11 points each, while sophomore point guard Jamie Kaplan added 10 to go with a team-leading five assists.

On the other side, the bulk of the Sam Houston scoring was done by senior forward Britni Martin, who racked up 18 points. But once Tulane was able to slow Martin down, the Wave kick-started a second-half run that led to the victory.

Tulane now advances to the second round and will play Southeastern Conference foe Arkansas at 2 p.m. Sunday in Fayetteville, Ark.

On Thursday, three quick jumpers by Kautsky gave the Wave an early lead, but with a pair of 3-pointers the Bearkats stayed close. Then turnovers and the failure to convert scoring opportunities began to plague Tulane as the second half wore on, and SHU gradually claimed the lead about halfway through the first half.

The Green Wave also ran into trouble stopping Martin, who tallied a half-leading nine points by halftime. The Bearkats also got to the line more often than Tulane in the first half and converted them. About the only bright real spot for Tulane in the half was a whopping seven blocked shots that stifled the Sam Houston offense several times.

The second half didn’t start too well for Tulane either — SHU committed five turnovers within the first three minutes, and the Wave couldn’t convert them for any points. Even a sudden burst of offense from Grayson — including a three-point play and a swished 3-pointer — couldn’t help Tulane maintain the lead.

The tide turned when Ebomwonyi hit a jumper to give the Wave a 44-43 lead about eight minutes into the second half. That was the start of a slew of baskets by Tulane’s bench, led by Ebomwonyi and senior guard Tyria Snow, who sank six points to go with five boards for the game.

Meanwhile, the Green Wave clamped down on defense and forced the Bearkats into several turnovers and missed shots. When a timeout was called on the floor with 7:25 left, Tulane held a 10-point, 53-43 edge.

The Wave then kept the valiant Bearkats at bay the rest of the way. Tulane got into a little foul trouble in the closing minutes, but SHU couldn’t take advantage of it.

A 3-pointer by Kautsky with less than two minutes left sealed the deal.

After the game, Tulane players said Stockton lit into them in the locker room at halftime, urging them to clean up the turnovers, pick up the tempo, and tighten up on defense to slow Martin.

The pep talk worked, sparking the second-half-run that led to the Green Wave victory. Snow said being able to regain their composure in the second half, aided by a small, but vocal crowd of supporters, meant the world to the Tulane players, especially the seniors, who took part in the final home contest of their collegiate careers Thursday.

“I’ve been here four years, and each time it’s been amazing,” she said of playing perform a home audience. “The fans are always behind us, so it’s really a blessing.”