by Adrian Broaddus
Lulu McKinney dropped two 3-pointers and totaled with 12 points in double overtime to help lift the Miners over the Charlotte 49ers 94-91. With the win in the back-and-forth contest, the Miners (25-2, 16-1 C-USA) secured the 2016 Conference USA regular season title.
They forced 30 turnovers and received a tremendous performance from Jenzel Nash, who ended the night making 12-of-29 from the floor, three steals and 31 points. The turnovers led to 43 points for the Miners, while the bench added 34 points for the Miners as well.
“This is the best senior night we have ever had,” head coach Keitha Adams said. “At the end of the day, I really wanted this to happen for our kids, I wanted them to have this moment.”
This is the third regular season conference title the Miners have won in program history (2008, 2012 and 2016). All three teams were under Adams. They were undefeated (16-0) this season at home.
“You just had two really good teams in a boxing match,” Adams said. “Really proud of our players for fighting and playing hard. The kids have played hard all year and the reason I let the team cut the net down is because they protected the home court all year and they earned it.”
Starr Breedlove fouled out, Charlotte led by two points and Lulu McKinney had just turned the ball over – all seemed over for the lady Miners with only fifteen seconds left in the game. But, Jenzel Nash stole the inbound pass and was able to draw a quick foul, which turned into two sets of made free throws to tie the game and send the game to the first overtime.
“Jenzel getting the steal and getting into overtime – during the timeout, we talked about pressing and trapping and not fouling, but trying to get a steal,” Adams said. “Exactly what we talked about happened and The Lord above is with us, no doubt about it.”
After Tamara Seda made two go-ahead free throws, the 49ers retaliated with a tying bucket to send the game into the second overtime (76-76). Even though she had already fouled out, Breedlove was there to support her troops down the stretch.
“I kept being on the bench encouraging my teammates. Regardless if I’m there or not, I’m still out there,” Breedlove said. “Coach just kept believing in us. She said ‘we got this; heads up don’t put your head down’.“
Electrifying the second overtime, Nash immediately hit a 3-pointer to take a 79-76 lead. After McKinney’s six points beyond the arc, Cameasha Tuner had a steal and layup to hold the largest lead of overtime, 87-78. For the rest of the game, the 49ers tested the Miners on the charity stripe, but could not quite capitalize offensively and did not come in close reach for the lead.
“Before the game she (McKinney) was crying and said ‘I’m gonna miss you’ – that’s my best friend right there,” Turner said. “Lulu is a big time player even if she’s just a sophomore.”
In the first half, the two teams traded leads back and forth, until the Miners broke away with a 10-0 run to cap the 32-29 lead.
“I would have liked us to build off that thin (the 10-0 run) and kept it, but part of that is because Charlotte has a great team,” Adams said. “That gave our team some confidence though.”
After the promising run, they were outscored in the third and fourth quarter 43-40.
Even though she had no points in the first half, Turner came back in the second and scored 12 points. Other notable scorers for the Miners were McKinney (18), Breedlove (13) and Seda (8).
Charlotte shot 51.6 percent from the floor. Grace Hunter, who hauled 32 points, led the 49ers for the night. Even though there was six lead changes, Turner claims she never thought they would lose this game.
“I knew God had us,” Turner said. “It’s a bittersweet moment having my last game in the Don. We are rewriting history and just blessed.”
Next up, the Miners will travel to take on UTSA on March 5 in their last regular season game of the season.
Adrian Broaddus may be reached at [email protected]