Middle Tennessee (5-4) took on Missouri State (6-5) on Education Day in-front of the second largest crowd in program history. 11,411 showed up Thursday morning to cheer on the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee would close out the Lady Bears thanks to a Brea Edwards 10-0 run in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, securing a 70-54 win, with all the Murfreesboro City Schools in attendance.
The Blue Raiders began the game 0-for-4 from beyond the arc, and shot just 21.1 percent in the first quarter. Middle Tennessee point guard Ty Petty said after their home loss last Sunday to No. 8 Kentucky that she needed to command the offense better than she did against the Wildcats. Petty did exactly as she said, finishing with 13 points and 11 assists, her second double-double of the season.
“After the Kentucky game, that was kind of one of the problems that we weren’t in sync or executing our plays,” Petty said. “So for me as a point guard, I knew that I had to fix that. Coming into this game I made sure that me and coach were on the same page, and I just executed our plays.”
Missouri State extended their five-point first quarter lead to eight just minutes into the second quarter. The Blue Raider defense stepped up, holding the Lady Bears scoreless for almost six minutes of play, a big driver for the Middle Tennessee offense. The solid defensive play would allow the Blue Raiders to close out the half on a 18-5 run to take a 28-23 halftime lead.
“We held them to eight points in the fourth quarter, and I think that was really the spark,” Edwards said. “I’ve always said that our defense is our spark.”
The script was flipped in the third quarter, as the Blue Raiders got out to an early seven-point lead, but the Lady Bears would come storming back to take a 44-40 lead with just under two minutes to play in the third quarter. Fatigue seemed to be evident for some Blue Raiders and plays felt out of sync in the latter stages of the quarter.
The Blue Raiders seemed to struggle with the one-foot shots under the basket. They had countless opportunities in the second half to get easy buckets, but they couldn’t seem to connect. Missed opportunities were one of the major reasons Insell’s squad was trailing for much of the third quarter.
“We’re finishing in practice,” Head Coach Rick Insell said. “One of the things we have been working on in practice is finishing at the rim, and I was really surprised early on when Johnson and Reuter missed some little easy ones.”
The Blue Raiders caught fire in the fourth, finding a second wind to finish off the Lady Bears. Middle Tennessee held Missouri State scoreless for a four-minute span in the fourth quarter that allowed the team to take a 56-49 lead with just under five minutes left.
“Our communication was pretty good knowing that it was the Education Day, so we knew it was going to be hard to hear. When I drove and they collapsed I found my shooters. I had seen Brea, she started hitting shots. She’s our best shooter, so every time I got a chance I was trying to get the ball in her hands,” Petty said.
Edwards was cold for much of the first half, only scoring 12 points heading into the break. She kicked things up a notch in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-for-7 from the field, including a 10-0 run in a span of just over a minute toward the end of the fourth quarter to put the game away. Edwards would finish with 29 points, her second highest point total in her career, while playing all 40 minutes for the second time this season.
“Last year it would’ve taken a toll on me, but I made a conscious effort to come back in shape this year. I came in determined that I was going to play 40 minutes. I’ve been fine so far, so coming back in shape has definitely been good for me,” Edwards said.
“I wasn’t gonna take her [Edwards] out. We have some young ladies that could’ve probably went in, but the matchup on the defensive end is the biggest reason we left her in there,” Insell said when asked about Edwards’ high amount of minutes. “She’s very deceiving defensively.”
Middle Tennessee finished with 13 turnovers, half the amount they amassed against the Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday afternoon, which is something both Insell and Petty mentioned the team was going to work on before they took on Missouri State.
“I can remember five unforced turnovers where we made not good decisions on our passes, so really you take those five off and you have 8. That’s probably what we should’ve had for the game,” Insell said.
The Blue Raiders take on Tennessee Tech (3-6) on Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Murphy Center.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email firstname.lastname@example.org.