After a tough opening win away at East Carolina, the Lady Raiders headed home to face nationally ranked Kentucky in a litmus test for how good MTSU was early in the season.
The results came back highly negative.
The Kentucky Wildcats (2-0) showed why pollsters have them in the top 25 with a gritty victory over MTSU (1-1) at the Murphy Center Sunday afternoon 67-52.
The first half was mauled by turnovers and poor shooting from both teams with the squads struggling to get started. The teams combined for 19 turnovers and 17 personal fouls in a sloppy 20 minutes of action.
“It comes down to chemistry. We’re playing nine new players, most are freshman and sophomores, the people we’re playing and bringing off the bench for them this is a new game,” MTSU head coach Rick Insell said.
But with the first buzzer of the 3rd quarter, the Wildcats dominated play with a 13-0 run in the opening minutes to coast away from the Lady Raiders.
“Really proud of that stretch. (Murphy Center) is a tough place to play, a great crowd today…we needed to come out with that intensity to start and no lead is ever safe down here so you need to keep battling,” Kentucky head coach Matthew Mitchell said.
Anastasia Hayes led the Lady Raiders in scoring after finding some confidence in the second half with 20 points to go alongside four assists and six rebounds. But she was hampered in the final minutes after limping off with an apparent injury that Hayes said was just a cramp.
“I just really don’t like to lose. I knew I needed to step up. Playing harder, taking easy buckets, trying to see people who were open and not letting the hard fouls get to me,” Hayes said.
Overall, MTSU finished the game with 20 turnovers. A slight downtick from the 27 against ECU, but still not an acceptable total from a team vying for a shot at the Conference USA title.
“We can’t win games with 20 turnovers. We’re playing three great guards right now…so we need to do a better job,” Coach Insell said.
Despite the loss, the overall mood in the MTSU locker room seemed to not feel overly upset over the loss, instead opting to take what it learned against Kentucky and use it as a lesson moving forward.
“I’m not going to let this game define us. I’m upset we didn’t win the game and I know my players can play better than they played. But there is a tomorrow and it is a bright tomorrow with this bunch,” Insell said.
The Lady Raiders will hit the road again this time to New Orleans for a contest against Tulane on November 14. The game will tip at 7:00 and be viewable on Cox Sports.
To contact Sports Editor Elijah Campbell, email firstname.lastname@example.org.