Story by Ayanna Bronner / Contributing Writer
Against Marshall, the Lady Raiders triumphed 65-57.
Middle Tennessee scored five 3-pointers in the first half to jump to an early lead, relying on the strength of their offense. It was not enough for Marshall to get within a one-possession game, as Alexis Whittington capitalized on her 3-point range to jump the Blue Raiders to a five-point lead, which provided all the momentum the Blue Raiders needed. Whittington’s buzzer-beater began a 13-3 run that netted seven points for Middle Tennessee.
Courtney Whitson, one of Middle Tennessee’s top 3-point threats, sank five of them while finishing with 19 points and nine rebounds to lead the Blue Raiders.
While Middle Tennessee led from start to finish, the Herd limited the Blue Raiders’ offense to just one field goal in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Middle Tennessee’s Courtney Blakely was instrumental in establishing order after Marshall took a slim lead.
“The chemistry has been better than it’s ever been,” Whitson said. “We had a great team last year and we have a great team this year.”
Although the Blue Raiders were able to restore order during the Marshall game, they were no match for the resilient Lady Toppers of Western Kentucky, who surged back to beat Middle Tennessee 97-93 in overtime.
Despite a 16-point deficit, WKU forced overtime.
After starting 5-for-6 from the field, Middle Tennessee scored seven straight points in less than a minute to build a 12-4 lead. As MTSU took off, WKU responded with three 3s and a layup from Jaylin Foster to cut the deficit to 17-15. In the first quarter, Courtney Whitson scored 10 points to ignite a 15-4 run by the Lady Raiders that pushed the advantage to 32-19.
At the 3-point line, Middle Tennessee shot 64.7 percent.
During the second quarter, the Lady Raiders remained on fire and were able to keep WKU at bay. The Lady Toppers closed the gap to just ten points midway through the third quarter with a three from Alexis Mead, but Anastasiia Boldyreva’s second-half layup made the score 50-36 at halftime. The next five points were scored by MTSU to increase the margin to 11 points. It took WKU just 41.5 seconds to tie the game at 81 with an 8-0 spurt capped by a three-point play from Merel Abdelgawad. Taking the lead for the first time since 2-0, Abdelgawad made another breakaway drive to the basket with 7.7 seconds left to make it 83-81. MTSU tied it with 4.4 seconds remaining on a layup from Jalynn Gregory, but Foster’s jumper missed the rim, sending it to overtime.
With a 7-0 run in overtime, WKU never trailed.
Coach Insell stresses the importance of great focus, great enthusiasm, and great energy. According to Whitson, building on that energy and chemistry as a team and clinging to his words is key. Having been an eight-time hall of fame coach, it is worthwhile to glean from his knowledge.
“It is tough to play for him, but it makes us better,” Whitson said.
The Lady Raiders (20-6, 12-4) return to the Glass House in hopes of continuing their winning streak against Charlotte on Wednesday and Old Dominion, respectively.
As for the team taking advantage of the fans’ enthusiasm, Whitson comments, “Compared to last year not having that many fans to this year…. it gives us something to play for.”