Larry Joe Inman takes pride in the improvement but longs for another championship.
In his first year as Tennessee State’s women’s coach, he guided the Tigers to just their second winning record in league play in 18 years. Yet the season felt incomplete to the 65-year-old after it ended with a 73-61 loss to Southern-Illinois Edwardsville on Wednesday in the first round of the OVC Tournament at Municipal Auditorium.
The Tigers (13-15) lost their fifth straight OVC Tournament game. Their last victory was in 2009.
Simply winning a tournament game, however, isn’t enough for Inman, who won six tournament championships in stints at Eastern Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State.
“I look at championships,” he said. “I know it is a step at a time but I’m used to winning championships. We want to put kids on the floor who are going to win championships. If the championships come, they come. If they don’t, we’ll be working toward one. That is our goal every year — to win a championship.”
After suffering consecutive 20-loss seasons, the Tigers went 9-7 in conference play and finished in a tie for seventh place with SIUE. It was their highest win total in four years.
The sixth-seeded Cougars (16-13) were playing in their first OVC Tournament since transitioning from Division II. Raven Berry scored a game-high 19 points as SIUE held TSU to 31 percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers. SIUE advances to play No. 3 seed Belmont (17-12) at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Jasmin Shuler scored 17 points for the seventh-seeded Tigers but had just five points after halftime, and Kesi Hess added 14.
TSU fell into a 10-point hole early in the second half and never recovered. The loss ended the college careers of both Shuler and Hess, who played their first three years under Tracee Wells.
“[Inman] has brought fundamentals to our game and IQ as well,” Hess said. “He challenged us before he got here to step our IQ up. I’d say we did a good job. He has taught us stuff that we didn’t know. He has been a great person on and off the court.”
Inman, a Gallatin native, returned to college coaching after retiring from EKU in 2008. In 29 seasons, between EKU, MTSU and TSU, he is the winningest coach in OVC history. He needs just seven wins to reach 500 for his career.
The rebuilding process will continue as TSU graduates six seniors, including four starters.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a group of kids that I’ve enjoyed any more than this group of kids,” Inman said. “They’re a lot of fun to be around. They work extremely hard. They love their teammates. They’re special. I felt like they deserved a little more. I thought we came a long way but we didn’t come as far as we felt like we should have. They made tremendous progress.”