Rennia Davis scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and No. 3 seed Tennessee used a dominant second half to beat 14th-seeded Middle Tennessee 87-62 in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament on Sunday.
The Blue Raiders and guard Anastasia Hayes, one of the top scorers in the country, looked like they could pull off a shocker early on when they were tied with the Lady Vols at 39 at halftime. But a bid to become the first No. 14 seed to win an NCAA Tournament game was worn down against Tennessee’s superior size and length.
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Hayes scored 16 points in the first half before Tennessee shut down the upset bid with a dominant third quarter on both ends, outscoring MTSU 23-10 and holding the speedy and shifty guard to just a pair of free throws in the period.
Rae Burrell scored 22 points and Jordan Walker had nine points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee (17-7), which outrebounded MTSU (17-8) 56-21.
Hayes finished with 26 points for the Blue Raiders, who gave one of the bluebloods of women’s basketball reason to worry early before wilting.
The teams raced through a blistering first quarter when Tennessee made 10 of 19 shots but started trading baskets with Hayes, who scored nine in the period and kept the Blue Raiders within 21-18. She drew Tennessee defenders on probing drives before kicking out to Blue Raider shooters for 3-pointers. MTSU made four in the second quarter.
Tennessee’s length and size began choking off those drives in the third and a quick 8-1 run opened up a lead for the Lady Vols. MTSU went more than three minutes without a field goal.
Burrell’s floating jumper and a putback from Walker after her own missed free throw put Tennessee ahead 56-44 and in control, and the lead grew from there.
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Hayes, a junior, started her career at Tennessee and averaged 9.3 points per game before transferring after her freshman season. … She was part of the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class with the Lady Vols. She was the C-USA player of the year this season. She shot 9 of 25 on Sunday.
Tennessee coach Kellie Harper won three national titles as player with the Lady Vols from 1996-98 and on Sunday earned her first NCAA Tournament win at her alma mater. Harper is in her second season and becomes just the fourth coach to lead four teams to the tournament. She led Missouri State to the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed in 2019.
Tennessee advances to play the winner of the matchup between No. 6 Michigan State and No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast in San Antonio on Tuesday.