Laura Harper had seen this ending before.
Against Pittsburgh on Nov. 25, the Towson women’s basketball team had a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter until leading scorer Kylie Kornegay-Lucas picked up her fourth personal foul. The Tigers eventually lost the momentum and wilted in a 72-62 setback.
On Tuesday, a similar situation played out as Kornegay-Lucas fouled out midway through the final period, opening the door for Memphis to escape with a 73-71 win before an announced 2,115 at SECU Arena in Towson.
Memphis (6-5) enjoyed the last say when fifth-year senior center Jada Wright tipped in a missed layup by fifth-year senior shooting guard Jamirah Shutes just before the final horn sounded.
“Obviously, it’s tough to go down like this,” said Harper, the former Maryland standout in her first season as Towson’s coach. “For us, it’s the second time that we’ve been up in the fourth and Kylie has fouled out, and we’ve just struggled a little bit when she’s out of the game. But I think it makes us stronger. Other people have to step up and just figure out how to withstand and how to be better.”
Leading 43-21 with 2:42 left in the second quarter, Towson (5-5) allowed Memphis to embark on a 52-28 rally over the final 22:42.
“We asked this team what they wanted their identity to be, and they came back and said, ‘Defending and rebounding,’ because they know that’s what wins championships,” Memphis coach Katrina Merriweather said. “If we’re going to compete in games and have a chance to win them, those are the two things we have to do. We have our moments where we get a little lax, and we have our moments when we don’t execute with urgency. But what you saw in that second half was the team that we expect to see for 40 minutes.”
One area Towson must review is rebounding. After outrebounding Memphis, 20-16, in the first half, Towson was outmuscled, 25-7, in the second. That contributed to Memphis scoring 25 second-chance points compared to only 10 for Towson.
Memphis also converted 48.4% (15 of 31) of its shots in the second half and made all 11 of its free throws over the same stretch. By comparison, Towson shot 40.7% (11 of 27) and went just 2-for-3 from the free-throw line in the final two quarters.
“Defending and rebounding is how we are losing games,” Harper said. “It’s an emphasis for us in practice, and we know that for us to be a championship-caliber team, we have to tighten some of those things up, especially the rebounding. ... You just can’t win very many games where those are the numbers.”
While sophomore forward Quinzia Fulmore amassed 14 points and five rebounds and graduate student shooting guard Skye Williams scored 14 points, Towson clearly missed Kornegay-Lucas’ presence after she picked up her fifth and final foul on an unnecessary entanglement with Shutes with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter. Because she collected two fouls in the third, Kornegay-Lucas finished with zero points on 0 of 4 shooting, one rebound, one assist and one turnover in just nine minutes in the second half.
“We were just trying to manage it, her foul trouble,” Harper said of Kornegay-Lucas, who had racked up 12 points, four assists and three rebounds in the first half. “I think I probably put her in [the fourth quarter] a little too soon. At the same time, it’s like, the lead was slipping. So we knew we needed her. She’s got to learn how important she is on the floor for us.”
With the score tied at 71, Towson had the ball with a chance to take the lead. But 5-foot-7 sophomore point guard Patricia Anumgba’s drive into the point was stopped by the 6-4 Wright, who easily blocked Anumgba’s shot and claimed possession for Memphis.
Shutes (a game-high 19 points) whittled the clock down until she drove the left side and banked a shot that was a touch too hard. Fortunately for Memphis, Wright was at the front of the basket for the tip-in as the buzzer sounded. After a video review by officials, the bucket was confirmed.
Merriweather joked she would not have predicted that Wright, who finished with five points and five rebounds off the bench, would produce the game-winning field goal.
“I just am really proud of her,” she said. “We told Jamirah, ‘Hey, get to the rim, and all five people, go get the rebounds. If we shoot it late enough, they won’t be able to throw it down the floor and get a layup.’ So I think that was an example of everyone crashing and everyone being engaged. I think everyone on Towson had someone to box out, and that probably allowed her to be able to jump up and get up there.”
Towson will now have 10 days to rest for finals before a home game against UMass Lowell on Dec. 23. The layoff will give Harper and her staff an opportunity to reinforce some teaching points from Tuesday’s loss.
“If we want to continue feeling disappointment, then we’ll continue not rebounding,” she said. “So it’s one of those things where we know what our issues are. We’ve found a way to score the basketball. When you have a 22-point lead, you just have to defend and rebound. Technically, you should win the game. But again, we all definitely will learn a lot from this specifically.”
UMass Lowell at Towson
Friday, Dec. 23, noon