TULSA, Okla. -- East Carolina appeared destined for another futile season just one month ago. Now the Lady Pirates are champions.
Jasmine Young scored 23 points and East Carolina overcame a 12-point deficit to beat Rice 79-70 Sunday in the Conference USA tournament final and earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Impris Manning added 14 points and tournament MVP LaCoya Terry had 12 for the third-seeded Lady Pirates (19-13), whose 10th straight win sends them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1982.
"It feels good," said Terry, who scored 30 points in the Lady Pirates' semifinal win Saturday. "It really hasn't hit me yet. We have class coming up, so I won't be able to celebrate too long."
Krystal Frazier led the fourth-seeded Owls (19-13) with 27 points, including six 3-pointers, and Lauren Neaves added 16 points and 15 rebounds for her 51st career double-double.
The victory adds to an unlikely turnaround for East Carolina, which fell to 9-13 after a Feb. 1 loss to Alabama-Birmingham.
"We started off the season rough, to say the least," East Carolina coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener said. "They've responded well the last couple of months. I knew this was possible."
East Carolina closed the game on a 17-6 run, finishing as hot as it started and not allowing the Owls to score a field goal from the 6:03 mark until Frazier's 3 with 29 seconds left.
"There was plenty of time left on the clock," Young said. "We knew we had to make some big defensive stops and execute on offense."
The Lady Pirates took the lead 66-64 on Cherie Mills' layup with 4:30 to go, the first time they were ahead since there was 7:06 to go in the first half. They didn't look back, building a 76-65 margin on Young's free throws with 36 seconds left.
Frazier's 3 and her two foul shots pulled the Owls to 76-70 with 27 seconds on the clock, but Terry and Manning hit 3-of-4 free throws to seal the victory.
Mills finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Manning added 13 rebounds for the Lady Pirates.
The Owls led 53-41 on Frazier's basket with 12:18 to play, but Young and the Lady Pirates took over from there, going on a 10-2 run to cut the Owls' lead to 55-51 with 9:34 left.
"They just beat us to the rim," Rice coach Greg Williams said. "They beat us to the basket and we knew they were capable of doing that."
East Carolina took a 20-6 lead just over six minutes into the first half, hitting nine of its first 11 shots, but trailed 36-34 at halftime after missing all but two of its next 20 attempts.