Story by Elisha Nelson / Contributing Writer
The Middle Tennessee Lady Raiders narrowly defeated Charlotte 72-65 on Wednesday night, stealing the back-and-forth game away in the final minutes.
The Lady Raiders (21-6, 13-4 C-USA) started off the night struggling to make their shots, shooting just 42% on the night and notching a measly 11 points in the first quarter. They made their mark defending, however, forcing double the amount of turnovers they allowed and holding Charlotte (18-9, 14-3 C-USA) to a poor shooting percentage from the field.
Things got tough for Middle Tennessee after an excellent effort by Charlotte’s Dazia Lawrence, stealing a 3-point play at the final seconds of the third quarter to bring the score within 1 at 50-49. However, one player was able to change the tide in the fourth quarter with a career shooting performance.
A breakout performance from Kseniya Malashka was enough to put the Lady Raiders over the top, putting up a career best 27 points coming off the bench.
“I was working the whole last year with Coach (Matt) Insell on playing as a guard,” said Malashka, after draining four threes and taking over the game in the fourth quarter. “I can play both guard and post. We were working during the summer on my guard skills, and in season we developed my post skills.”
Along with a big night from Malashka, Middle Tennessee was able to take advantage of making their shots count from the arc, shooting 33% from three against a stout perimeter Charlotte defense that leads the conference in defensive three-point percentage allowed at 23%. To contrast, Charlotte made just 4-of-21 three-point attempts.
That wasn’t all from the defense though, with Senior Alexis Whittington effectively shutting down Charlotte’s leading scorer Octavia Jett-Wilson, who shot just 3-10 from the field.
For the Lady Raiders, winning their 13th straight at home proves optimistic for the team’s future heading into the postseason. Having one more conference win, Charlotte remains at the top of the C-USA East division, with Middle Tennessee just a game behind first place. Kseniya Malashka’s standout night could prove to be a key factor going forward, as the Belarussian doesn’t seem to be short on confidence.
“It’s championship time,” Malashka said. “We’re staying ready and focusing on that.”
Next for the Lady Raiders is a contest against Old Dominion on Saturday, March 5th at 2 p.m in the Glass House. A win would secure second place in C-USA East division, but would snag first with a Charlotte loss.