Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
On Friday, the Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders (1-0) kicked off their 2017-18 campaign with taking on the Vanderbilt Commodores (0-1) in Nashville. Middle Tennessee played some lockdown defense and shot the ball well enough to get their first win of the season by a score of 65-54 and to give their head coach Rick Insell his 300th career win at MTSU.
The Lady Raiders came out shooting the ball well in the first, but it was their defense that was firing on all cylinders. They held the Commodores to 33 percent shooting in the first half.
Junior Jess Louro led the way defensively for the Lady Raiders, as she was tasked with guarding Commodore guard Rachell Bell. Louro held Bell to just nine points and 2-11 shooting.
Insell was very pleased with the way Louro played defense on a dangerous player, as they needed it to get the victory.
“Bell is a very tough out,” Insell said. “We assigned (Louro) to her because she just has that ‘New Jersey toughness,’ and I wanted her to get into (Bell) and she did.”
Offensively in the first half, Louro, Gabby Lyon and Rebecca Reuter carried the way offensively for the Lady Raiders.
Louro ended the first half with six points on two three-point makes, while Lyon finished the opening act by scoring five points and grabbing three boards.
Reuter stuffed the stat sheet better than anyone in the first half as she grabbed six rebounds and scored seven points, including a SportsCenter-worthy, buzzer-beating three at the end of the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, their best player Alex Johnson left the game in the first quarter because of an ankle injury and did not return.
Lyon knew that losing Johnson would make things tough, but she knew her and her teammates just needed to keep playing their game.
“(Johnson) is our horse and our primary post-player, so we just wanted to play hard for her,” Lyon said. “We really just wanted to stay in the game and stay up and go through our offense.”
Johnson will be evaluated and get x-rays tomorrow.
After both teams struggled late in the half, the Lady Raiders took a 30-26 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter got underway and Middle Tennessee came out red-hot. Louro, Kyla Allison and Abbey Sissom each hit a three to help extend the lead for MTSU.
Allison and Louro stepped up when the Lady Raiders needed it most. Without Johnson, Insell knew that his team needed every point they could get from those two.
“I thought Kyla and Jess hit some big shots, and some very timely shots,” Insell said.
Although they pushed their lead to 12, the Commodores closed the gap down to five early in the fourth quarter
It wasn’t enough to rattle the Lady Raiders however, as Katie Collier and Sissom hit some big-time free throws and put the game out of reach. When all was said and done, Middle Tennessee left Nashville with a 65-54, season-opening victory.
Lyon finished the game with a double-double, and Louro led all scorers with 16 points.
“These were two good basketball teams that are going to get better,” Insell said. “We appreciate Vanderbilt and (Commodore coach) Stephanie White for scheduling us. We’ve got a good fanbase, they’ve got a good fanbase. That’s what we need to do to grow the game of basketball.”
In his 300th career win, it took a complete effort from starters and reserves alike to walk away with a positive result. It was one that Insell won’t soon forget.
“I’ve had some good players,” Insell said. “I thought before the game how blessed I was to be able to coach at Middle Tennessee and coach the young ladies that I’ve got. I knew that they were going to come out and play hard.”
The Lady Raiders next action will be on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in the Murphy Center.