By Rickey Fuquay, Jr.//Contributing Writer
MURFREESBORO – Cold shooting and missed free throws down the stretch doomed Middle Tennessee (18-8, 12-4 C-USA) in a 62-57 loss to Alabama-Birmingham Saturday in the Murphy Center.
Playing for the first time since senior forward Cheyenne Parker was dismissed from the team for repeated violations of the athletic department policy, the Blue Raiders started cold offensively. They shot just 17 percent from the field as UAB got out to a 7-3 advantage with 16:22 left in the first half.
However, MTSU got it together and explode to a 14-0 run to take a 17-7 lead with 11:39 left in the opening frame. The Blazers outscored the Blue Raiders 17-7 the rest of the half. The teams headed into the locker room tied at 24 points apiece.
The Blue Raiders came out of the locker room aggressively, taking a 41-31 edge with 11:49 left in the game. MTSU maintained their 10-point lead over the next few minutes, leading 50-40 with 7:44 left in regulation.
The Blazers responded though with a 10-1 run to cut the deficit to just one point with 3:33 left in the second half. From that point, UAB would outscore the Blue Raiders 11-7, capitalizing on 7-of-8 shooting from the charity stripe, to pull off a 62-57 upset of MTSU.
Free throws killed the Blue Raiders in the second half. They went just 4-of-12 from the free-throw line, leaving key points there.
Sophomore guard Olivia Jones led the way with a game-high 22 points. She also added five rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“I don’t think they did anything that killed us,” Jones said. “If we had defended more and took away their shooters, we would have had a (win).”
Jones came off the bench for MTSU for the first time this season.
“Olivia didn’t start because of her week in practice,” said Head Coach Rick Insell, addressing why Jones came off the bench in the game.
Sophomore guard Ty Petty was the only other Blue Raider in double figures, tallying 16 points along with four rebounds and five assists. She shot 6-of-10 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three-point range, tying her season high for three’s in a game.
Parker’s presence was missed in the game. The Blue Raiders were outrebounded 41-32. Also, MTSU only recorded two blocked shots, which Parker had been leading the league in.
Freshmen Gabby Lyon and Rebecca Reuter, who will be tasked with replacing Parker in the post, managed only 10 points on the night.
The Blazers (15-12, 9-7 C-USA) finished with a trio of players in double figures. Chelsee Black led the team with 18 points, including some big-time scoring in the final minutes of the game.
Janae Smith also reached double figures, recording 17 points along with 15 rebounds for a double-double. Janeka Williams added 11 points for the Blazers.
The Blue Raiders finished the second-half stretch shooting 18 percent from the field, as well as 50 percent from the charity stripe. In addition, they got outrebounded 22-19 in the final 20 minutes.
The loss puts MTSU two games behind Western Kentucky in the conference standings. The best they can do now is clinch a share of the regular-season title. That can only happen if WKU loses their last two games, and MTSU wins theirs
The Blue Raiders look to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season when they host Florida International on Thursday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m CST.
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