Photo by Joi Williams / MTSU Sidelines
Two of the best defenses in Conference USA squared off on Thursday night in the Murphy Center, as the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders (11-7, 3-2) battled the Mean Green of North Texas (11-6, 2-3). The defensive slugfest played out in favor of MTSU, who came away with the 56-48 victory.
The first quarter saw both teams start slow. After the first five-and-a-half minutes, both teams only managed a combined six points and eight turnovers (five by Middle Tennessee). Not only were turnovers plentiful for both squads, but shooting was also a problem. North Texas shot 18.2 percent from the field, while MTSU shot 25 percent.
With the Lady Raiders down 6-5, freshman Anna Jones knocked down a three-pointer and scored on layup to give the home squad a 10-6 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter saw more offensive action from North Texas, as they put together their best frame of the game. Shots began to fall at a higher rate for the Mean Green, who shot a much-improved 45.5 percent from the field. They also made eight trips to the free throw line, converting on seven of them.
The Lady Raiders struggled again on offense and only generated 10 points for the second straight quarter. North Texas took full advantage of it for a 24-20 lead heading into the halftime intermission.
In the third quarter, it was MTSU’s turn to get the hot shooting hand. The Lady Raiders scorched the nets, shooting 54.5 percent from the field and an incredible 4-5 from beyond the arc. They locked down defensively as well, holding North Texas to only nine points in the quarter. This propelled the Lady Raiders to a 37-33 lead going into the games’ pivotal final act.
Locking down on defense and converting on all three of their three-pointers kept North Texas at bay in the fourth. At one point, this allowed MT to their largest lead of the game at 11 points late.
Along with connecting on a few crucial free throws down the stretch, junior Katie Collier and senior Abbey Sissom knocked down three-pointers from the right corner to help secure MT’s third straight conference victory.
Johnson returns from injury in win
Star forward Alex Johnson returned to the starting lineup on Thursday night, marking her first appearance back from injury in nine games.
“I feel good,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long time coming … I feel like my foot’s back, not at 100 percent, but it’s where I can move it around at a comfortable rate.”
In Johnson’s first game back, the former Blackman high standout scored eight points on 2-7 shooting from the field. Johnson suffered from some bad rolls around the rim that resulted in a few missed shots, as well as struggling to take care of the ball with six turnovers.
Head coach Rick Insell is confident that her performance will improve once her foot fully heals.
“There was a time or two where (Johnson) tried to do too much,” Insell said. “It’s going to take her four or five games to get back where she was, but she played hard.”
Jones has another stellar shooting performance off of the bench
The freshman phenom continued her string of recent games with a 15-point performance on Thursday night.
Jones was red-hot from the field, making six of her nine field goal attempts and connecting on three of her five three-point attempts. Jones’ 15 points in only 25 minutes of game action was enough to lead both teams in points.
Despite her solid play, she’s learned enough in her first season in college to not get ahead of herself.
“Every game, you have to come with a new mindset,” Jones said. “You have to have a short memory because everyday is a new day.”
The Lady Raiders will return to the Glass House on Saturday to take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. Tip-off will be at 1 p.m.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3.
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