By Rickey Fuquay, Jr.//Contributing Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Cold shooting down the stretch doomed Middle Tennessee (21-9) in a 65-53 loss to Southern Mississippi (22-9) at Legacy Arena Friday, ousting them in the Conference-USA semifinals.
MTSU was looking to make it to its second-straight C-USA title game. The loss now puts its NCAA Tournament hopes in jeopardy.
The Blue Raiders have made the tournament six years in a row. However, C-USA has been a one-bid league the past three seasons. If this trend continues, MTSU could be on the outside looking in when selection time comes.
Things went well for the Blue Raiders early as they took a 16-6 lead with 11:09 left in the opening frame thanks in large part to seven early turnovers and 14 percent shooting from the field by Southern Miss.
After a back-and-forth affair, the Golden Eagles ended the half on a 10-4 run to cut the deficit to four heading into the locker room with MTSU leading 25-21.
The second half started out tight as the Golden Eagles opened the half on a 7-1 run to take a 28-26 lead on a Brooke Rhodes layup with 18:36 left in the game.
The teams traded buckets over the next 13 minutes. The Blue Raiders held the lead 48-47 with 5:34 remaining after a layup by Ty Petty, but it was the last lead MTSU had.
The Golden Eagles finished the game on a 18-7 run, holding the Blue Raiders to just three baskets down the stretch en route to a 65-53 win.
Sophomore guard Olivia Jones led the team with a double-double, recording 19 points and 10 rebounds. Also in double figures was Junior guard Brea Edwards, who scored 14 points. Sophomore guard Petty had a very solid day, adding 10 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals.
For the Golden Eagles, Voche’ Martin and Rhodes both led the team on offense. Martin recorded a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Rhodes tallied 14 points in the contest. Also in double figures was senior forward Tamara Jones, who also recorded a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Foul trouble plagued the Blue Raiders all game, as they committed 26 fouls with three players fouling out of the game. The absence of Cheyenne Parker was definitely noticeable in the loss, as MTSU was beat up on the boards. Southern Miss outrebounded the Blue Raiders 49-31, and they outscored MTSU 30-22 on points in the paint.
MTSU never figured out Southern Miss this season, dropping all three contests to the Golden Eagles.
The Blue Raiders will now await their postseason fate. They hope to get an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, but a spot in the WNIT looks more likely at this point. The fields for both tournaments will be announced on Monday.
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