MURFREESBORO – Middle Tennessee’s 69-57 loss to Temple in the quarterfinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Sunday ended a season full of twists and turns.
MTSU started the season 6-4 before entering Conference USA play. The Blue Raiders missed out on chances to build their resume during non-conference play, which came back to bite them when NCAA Tournament selection time arrived.
Losses to Arizona State, Arkansas and Kentucky were prime opportunities that the Blue Raiders failed to capitalize on early in the season.
After winning both the regular season and tournament titles last year in its inaugural season in Conference USA, MTSU was picked to repeat as C-USA champions again this year.
The Blue Raiders did not disappoint during the regular season as they went 14-4 in conference play, finishing second in the league standings.
They seemed primed for a deep run in the conference tournament.
However, MTSU’s chances took a blow late in the regular season after senior standout Cheyenne Parker was dismissed from the team for violations of athletic department policy on Feb. 27.
Her dismissal was later found out to be because of failed drug tests.
At the time of her dismissal, Parker was averaging a double-double with 18.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, both ranking second in C-USA.
After Parker’s dismissal, MTSU went 2-1 to close out the regular season. As a second seed in the conference tournament, the Blue Raiders earned a first-round bye.
In the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, the Blue Raiders defeated Louisiana Tech to advance to the semifinals.
This is where the Blue Raiders’ conference tournament run ended.
A 65-53 loss to Southern Miss, a familiar result this season, ended MTSU’s run in the conference tournament. MTSU lost all three of its matchups with Southern Miss this season.
The loss ended MTSU’s chances of making its seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. However, MTSU still made it into the postseason, accepting a bid to the WNIT.
The bid in the WNIT marked the 12th-straight season that the Blue Raiders had made it into a postseason tournament.
MTSU made lots of the noise in the WNIT, winning three games to advance to the quarterfinals (Elite 8) of the tournament.
No team in the program’s history had ever won multiple games in a postseason tournament before this season.
The trio of Olivia Jones, Ty Petty and Brea Edwards powered the team’s deep run in the WNIT. Jones, C-USA’s leading scorer during the regular season, averaged 17.3 points per game during the tournament.
Petty blossomed since Parker’s dismissal, scoring in double digits in all nine games since that time. During the WNIT, she led all Blue Raider scorers with 18.5 points per game.
Edwards also came on late into the season, recording two double-double’s in the WNIT.
She scored 13.5 points per game during the WNIT and set a new school record with a career-high 20 rebounds in the quarterfinal game against Temple.
She broke the previous record held by Ebony Rowe and Icelyn Elie, who both pulled down 16 boards in MTSU’s 2012 NCAA Tournament game against Vanderbilt.
The Blue Raiders’ WNIT run came to an end Sunday, with a 69-57 defeat to Temple. The loss denied MTSU the opportunity to go to the WNIT Final Four.
MTSU ended the season 24-10 overall.
While it brought an end to a season that had higher expectations for the Blue Raiders, there is much to look forward to next season.
Senior Shanice Cason is the only major loss for the Blue Raiders, as she will be graduating. MTSU returns most of its key players in 2015, possibly leading to a rebound 2015-16 season for the Blue Raiders.
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