James misfired from the line with 6.9 seconds remaining, leaving UT with enough time to set up a 3-pointer that could've sent the game into overtime. Alas, the Rockets couldn't chase down the rebound after that missed free throw, and ended up losing 70-66 at Savage Arena.
The loss snaps a 17-game home win streak in the league for the Rockets (8-7, 1-2) who have already dropped as many Mid-American Conference games as they did all of last year when they won the regular season championship.
UT's failure to snag the ball after James' miss was a microcosm of the night. The Rockets nearly erased second-half deficits of 14 and 13 points but couldn't quite grasp control.
"Definitely not where we wanted to be," junior Yolanda Richardson said of the 1-2 start to league play. "We have to live and learn from it. We can't make the same mistakes. It's all about the little details."
UT's main issue Wednesday has been its issue much of the season: Slow beginnings.
Turnovers played a major role in rough start, as UT registered 12 of them in the first 15 minutes and trailed by 10.
James was a handful, scoring 23 of her 30 points in the first half. The MAC's leading scorer sometimes sliced to the bucket and other times set up from long range where she knocked down three 3-pointers.
UT's Andola Dortch, who played just nine minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, helped limit James to only three field goals in the second half.
"We knew Tavelyn was capable of what she did and more," UT coach Tricia Cullop said. "What we didn't count on was some of the other people scoring the way they did, especially in transition."
Paige Redditt, who tracked down Jones' missed free throw at the end, finished with 13 points, as did Natachia Watkins.
Northview graduate Olivia Fouty scored two points, on a lay up that put EMU (10-6, 2-1) ahead 62-50 with 7:34 to go.
Fouty, who grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds in a recent game, secured an important board off a Dortch missed free throw with 1:09 to go to maintain her team's four-point lead.
For UT, Richardson and Dortch shared honors with 11 points, and Central Catholic product Brianna Jones scored a career-best 10 points in 13 minutes.
UT used the 3 ball to get back into the game, first on a pair by Courtney Ingersoll, and another by Kyle Baumgartner.
Richardson followed with a bucket, tightening the gap to two. Richardson cut the lead to two again on a lay up with 35 seconds to go when Dortch found her unattended under the basket.
The Rockets didn't score again.
Cullop said she and her coaches are trying "everything we can think of" to ensure the Rockets start games on a better note.
Until that happens, they might be forced to rally late and hope to be picture perfect down the stretch. Missed box outs won't cut it.
"The thing that's a big question mark going forward -- and we have to solve this in a hurry -- is to have a better first half effort," Cullop said. "Especially in the first 10 minutes.
"We have to stop spotting teams in the first half and hoping for a miracle comeback."