Photo by Andrew Brown / MTSU Sidelines
Story by Darius Horton / Sports Reporter
The fourth-seeded Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders (18-12, 10-6) opened up conference tournament play against the fifth-seeded Rice Lady Owls. Though they were the beneficiaries of a career game from Alex Johnson, Middle fell just short by a final score of 61-53.
The game started with a very competitive first quarter where both teams competed heavily on the defensive end. There were six lead changes, and Rice found themselves with a 13-12 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Lady Raiders struggled late in the first half, as they committed three traveling violations to halt any momentum the team had. Even withe the miscues, Middle Tennessee still managed to keep the game close by a score of 24-18 at halftime.
Turnovers haunted MTSU in the first half, as they gave the ball away eight times. That number was evened out by their star plater, as Johnson ended the first half with eight points and ten rebounds.
Even though the score was close, Head Coach Rick Insell knew that those turnovers really hurt his team, especially the traveling calls.
“Those were the three possessions I would like to have back,” Insell said. “We know if we could take those three possessions back, we would put it in (Johnson’s) hands. Early in the game, that might be the difference.”
The Lady Raiders came into the third quarter with hopes of tying the game, but got off to a slow start and couldn’t stop the Lady Owls. The third quarter was the downfall for Middle, as they shot only 27 percent from the field and scored only 12 points. They ended the quarter trailing Rice by nine points, leaving the fourth quarter as the defining moment of their season.
In the final frame, Middle Tennessee found themselves down by 11 after Erica Ogwumike knocked down a shot early. The Lady Raiders were resilient thanks to the play of Alex Johnson, as they cut the lead down to four with 2:15 left in the game.
It would not be enough however, and Rice advanced in the tournament with a 61-53 win over MTSU.
Johnson’s big day keeps Middle Tennessee in the game
The Murfreesboro native had an outstanding first half with eight points and ten rebounds, and then she followed that up with 24 points and four rebounds in the second half. That gave her a total of 32 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
She snagged seven rebounds on offense and seven on defense to help her team on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve been lacking on the offensive and defensive boards lately so I knew this game, I had to (step up),” Johnson said. “It was one of the biggest things that I put emphasis on for myself.”
Johnson also shot perfectly from the free throw line, as she made all nine of her free throws for the Lady Raiders.
Offensive struggles doom Lady Raiders
The Lady Raiders had a lot of missed opportunities from the floor. They shot 35 percent from the floor and could not get anything going from three, as they only made three of their 22 attempts from beyond the arc.
Outside of Johnson’s efforts, the next highest scorer had five points. The Lady Raiders also lost two of their key players in freshman guard Anna Jones and junior guard Jess Louro to foul trouble in the second half of the game.
“We just didn’t play with enough passion and they did,” Insell said. “We allowed them to play (their game) and they are pretty good when you allow them to.”
The Lady Raiders will await their fate on Selection Sunday to see if they will have post-season play.
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