Blue Raiders drop tough game to No. 8 Kentucky

Middle Tennessee junior guard Olivia Jones drives to the basket against the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats on Dec. 13, 2015 at Murphy Center. The Blue Raiders turned the ball over 26 times en route to a 68-52 loss. (Submitted/Go Blue Raiders)

Photo courtesy of Go Blue Raiders

Middle Tennessee (4-4) returned home to Murphy Center on Sunday afternoon to battle the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats (9-0). The Blue Raiders amassed an eye-popping 26 turnovers in Sunday’s contest en route to a 68-52 loss to Kentucky.

The Blue Raiders struggled to hit their open looks early, going 1-for-5 from the field in the first two minutes of action. The team would finish shooting 3-for-18 (18.8 percent) from the field in the first quarter while creating seven turnovers in the process. The Blue Raiders had an early 7-5 lead, but Kentucky did not allow Middle Tennessee to regain a lead throughout the rest of the game.

“They (Kentucky) made us do things that we haven’t had to do,” Head Coach Rick Insell said. “They’re good defensively. Every time we got them into their shot clock, they were able to hit open shots, and that’s a sign of a good basketball team.”

The second quarter was much of the same for the Blue Raiders as they had difficulty finding open passing lanes. This was in part due to a great defensive play by Kentucky guard Makayla Epps, who seemed to know exactly what Middle Tennessee was trying to do the whole game. The Blue Raiders looked out of sync, which seemed to be a root cause for the great amount of turnovers and missed shots. Surprisingly, MT only trailed Kentucky by the score of 35-28 at the half after turning the ball over 15 times and shooting a mere 34.4 percent from the field.

“They [Kentucky] made us have 26 turnovers, and they converted on, I believe, 21 of them. That’s the ball game right there,” Middle Tennessee guard Ty Petty said. “Other than that, it was us. In spurts we trusted our offense, and we got something good out of it. But then we broke rank of our offense, and tried to do things that we normally don’t do.”

The second half began on a quick Kentucky layup, while Middle Tennessee missed its first three shots. The Blue Raiders began to show frustration in the third quarter with ill-advised shots and foolish turnovers, as nothing seemed to be going their way. The Blue Raiders did their best to hang with the Wildcats, but Kentucky was able to create easy transition points off Middle Tennessee’s turnovers, putting the game out of reach for the Blue Raiders.

“I think I was just frustrated with myself, me being the point guard, that’s my job to get us into the offense and to run things on the floor,” Petty said. “I just have to do a better job of that in the next game.”

The fourth quarter was much of the same frustration and lack of execution from the Blue Raiders. Kentucky was able to score 21 points off the 26 Middle Tennessee turnovers, which was the biggest difference in the game. The Blue Raiders were able out-rebound the Wildcats 40-32, but Kentucky won the shooting battle 46.7 percent to 34.0 percent. Brea Edwards scored a team-high 15 points while only hitting two three-pointers. Petty scored 14 points, and Olivia Jones scored 10 points and grabbed five boards for the Blue Raiders.

“Most of our turnovers came from just panicking,” Petty said. “When we trusted our offense, we got something good from it …We just have to learn from this.”

The Blue Raiders will take a few days off to regroup before taking on Missouri State (6-4) on Dec. 17 at 11 a.m. at Murphy Center. Middle Tennessee will need to reduce the amount of turnovers and continue to out-rebound their opponents if they hope to continue their winning ways.

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