BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The No. 10 seed Rice Owls women's basketball team saw their 2015-16 season come to a close with a 74-54 loss to No. 2 seeded Middle Tennessee in the quarterfinals of the C-USA Championships Thursday evening at Bartow Arena.
Rice (9-22, 7-11) cut a 16-point fourth quarter deficit down to 55-48 with 6:27 remaining in the game but the Blue Raiders (22-8, 15-3) outscored the Owls 19-6 the rest of the way to earn a trip to the semifinals.
The Owls were led in scoring by junior point guard Maya Hawkins, who poured in a team-high 19 points, while freshman guard Gabrielle Stanton chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Rice was hurt by 18 turnovers that resulted in an 18-7 points off turnovers advantage for the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee had four players score in double-figures, led by a game-high 23 points from Brea Edwards (5-of-11 from three-point territory).
The loss ended an exciting season under first year head coach Tina Langley, who guided the Owls to the C-USA quarterfinals for the first time since the 2012 campaign. Despite the loss, Langley acknowledged that her first season at the helm proved to be a step in the right direction with brighter days ahead.
"I just want to say how proud I am of these girls, this team, and the year we had," Langley said. "Wins and losses don't define our team. What we did this season was really special because a group of people came together and bought into something bigger than themselves. Our mentality was growth throughout the season and I think that you saw that this team grew every day."
"The fourth quarter was a great example of who this team is," Langley said. "There was no quit in them. We always knew we had a chance in games this season because of the way we fought. It's a terrific sign for where we're headed in the future. I also want to say how much I appreciate the seniors, who were unbelievable in building a foundation for our future and the culture of our program. We're going to be forever grateful for what they did."
Trailing 55-39 with 7:57 left in the fourth quarter, the Owls got aggressive on the defensive end by trapping and a string of three consecutive Middle Tennessee turnovers resulted in a 9-0 Rice run. During the stretch Jasmine Goodwine knocked down just the ninth three-pointer of her career and Stanton scored on consecutive fastbreak layups.
However, a pair of three-pointers from Middle Tennessee's Abbey Sissom and Edwards halted the Rice run and extended the Blue Raiders lead to 61-50.
The loss marked the final game for Rice seniors Elena Gumbs, Alyssa Lang and Megan Palmer. Lang, who finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds, acknowledged afterwards that the Owls only got better as the season progressed.
"Everyone on our team bought in from day one and you saw us continually get better as the season went on," Rice senior forward Alyssa Lang said afterwards. "We stayed with the process and never quit fighting. I'm so proud of this team."