The point guard has always been held as one of the most important positons in basketball and for good reason. A great point guard can take a team to the next level, move a program from pretender to contender and help solidify a championship run.
Ty Petty is that point guard for the Lady Raiders. She’s stepped up her play during the 2015-16 campaign and gives the team a legitimate edge heading into their first-round game against Florida State Saturday.
Petty took over the point guard role as a sophomore in 2014 and found her groove offensively by averaging a career-high 11.6 points per game in 31 appearances.
Her junior campaign kept the same pace, and Petty was called on even more than she had been with Caroline Warden not fully recovered from an ACL injury.
Petty finished the regular season as the second-leading scorer for Middle Tennessee this year by averaging 12.3 points per game. During the C-USA tournament, she set the single-season record for assists with 188.
Petty has also improved on the boards, even as the point guard position by finishing conference play with 103 rebounds, just 11 shy of freshman sensation Alex Johnson.
The Lady Raiders made it to the tournament just two years ago, and most projected them to shock some people. A team composed of all-time leading scorer Ebony Rowe, freshman sensation (at the time) Olivia Jones and a talented group of seniors. Petty was a member of that team, and some might say that kind of learning experience is invaluable.
“When we get down there, the first thing is you gotta have great leadership,” Petty said after practice Wednesday. “That’s something I took from my freshman year. Ebony Rowe, KeKe Stewart, Lauren Marsh, they were great leaders. It’s all business.”
Senior leadership is something this Middle team can’t hang their hat on, with only two seniors on the roster. That leadership quality still shows up, whether it be Petty running the offense or Brea Edwards making big time shots.
“We’re a very young team, a lot of them haven’t experienced this trip,” Petty said. “We gotta come down here and continue to stay focused. We gotta come in this game like we did our conference tournament.”
Petty’s vision has been pivotal this season for the Lady Raiders, with the junior from Murfreesboro averaging 5.9 assists per game and having five 10+ assist games during the regular season and conference tournament.
“Ty (Petty) is probably as important as anybody we’ve got on this basketball team right now,” Head Coach Rick Insell said Wednesday. “She runs the offense, initiates the offense, knocks down shots, plays defense. She does it all. She’s a point guard that everybody would like to have.”
Matchup wise, Petty faces probably her toughest test of the season Saturday, guarding Seminole guard, as well as Spain national team member, Laticia Romero.
Romero has been deadly from behind the arc for Florida State this season by shooting 41 percent from three and averages 11.2 points per game. Romero is probably most deadly from the charity stripe, shooting 85 percent from the free throw line.
“Sticking to my rules, trusting my coaches when they go over the scout and when they give me the notes,” Petty said about guarding Romero. “I’ve watched film, she’s a great player, but I think we guard similarly, just gotta go in there and do what I do.”
Offensively for Middle Tennessee, it’s assumed that the Seminoles will key on Edwards and try to prevent her from heating up in Saturday’s game. Petty will be needed to continue her streak of solid play by creating shots for Lady Raider players.
“Fundamentals. Sticking to our fundamentals,” Petty said. “Like you said we can’t come in here and think we’re gonna run with them and jump with them. If that’s the case it’s going to be a long trip for us. If we just come out here, stick to our fundamentals, boxing out, communicating, making the correct pass I think we’ll be just fine.”
The 2015-16 regular season and conference tournament really showed Petty’s growth as a player. Over the last two seasons, Petty has increased her averages, albeit slight, but it’s made a difference as the Blue Raiders prepare for their first round matchup. The most notable changes in Petty’s game from her sophomore year to her junior year include a bump in points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game and assists per game.
Petty’s most notable change is the assist total, finishing with 39 more assists this season compared to last.
“From the get-go every game she (Petty) gets better and better and better,” Insell said. “She’s still got a year to go. She’s where I thought she would be.”
Middle Tennessee and Florida State tip off from College Station on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.