Story by Ayanna Bronner / Contributing Writer
With a back-and-forth, 73-71 overtime win Monday evening, Middle Tennessee (27-7) advanced to the semifinals of the WNIT after answering the relentless pressure of the Toledo Lady Rockets (29-6).
“This was a great atmosphere and that’s what you expect when you reach this point of a postseason tournament,” said Lady Raider head coach Rick Insell. “We knew it would take a great effort to come in here and win against a very good and well-coached Toledo team. I’m excited for our team, our fans, but I’m proud of how this team responded tonight.”
Toledo led 10-2 early in the first quarter.
The Lady Raiders came back from the deficit early and led by seven points after one quarter. Courtney Whitson sank four 3-pointers, helping the Lady Raiders come back into the contest.
Whitson finished the impressive run with 14 points.
Despite Toledo taking a two-point lead into halftime, Middle Tennessee was able to stay in a comfortable position with a layup from Jada Grannum and a free throw from Courtney Blakley.
After a steal from Rockets Quinesha Lockett, Whitson opened the third quarter with the kind of emotion Middle Tennessee needed to emerge from the locker room with.
In the third quarter, Anastasiia Boldyreva tied the game with a three-pointer, making the score 31-31.
While the Lady Raiders looked to capitalize on the defensive rebounds, the missed jumpers from Toledo, and the layup from Alexis Whittington, the offense failed to perform well in the latter half of the third quarter, with Toledo taking the lead again.
Toledo scored seven straight points to take a 43-37 lead.
In response, Boldyreva hit two jumpers, cutting the score to 45-41.
By making a layup near the end of the third quarter, Boldyreva ignited the Lady Raiders, narrowing the score to 47-43.
In the fourth quarter, Boldyreva made a three-pointer to cut Toledo’s lead to 47-46. From there, the teams began battling for victory. MTSU erased Toledo’s four-point lead within three minutes of the fourth quarter and each time Toledo had an advantage, Middle Tennessee responded.
Although, one of the critical errors made by the Lady Raiders in the final minutes of the game led to a Lady Rockets free throw. The Lady Rockets capitalized on another free throw shot after Whitson was called for a foul during a jump shot.
Jalynn Gregory was fouled driving to the basket with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter with Middle Tennessee trailing 62-60. Gregory made both of her free throws after being held scoreless the entire contest, tying the game 62-62.
Toledo’s Nan Garcia missed a potential game-winning shot at the end of regulation, sending the game into overtime.
Even though the contest was tied twice in overtime, the Lady Raiders never trailed. In the final 17 seconds of play, Toledo’s Sophia Wiard made a jumper and cut the score to 72-71. After Dor Saar missed both of her free throws after being fouled by the Lady Rockets, the ball was advanced to the offensive end when a timeout was called.
Toledo, however, failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Boldyreva converted one-of-two free throws with three seconds left to secure the victory after Garcia missed an open shot.
Boldyreva scored 23 points in the second half and three in overtime, ending the game with 28 points.
“She took the game over. The young lady got into a rhythm and just put the team on her back. She has made such great strides all season and that was on display tonight,” coach Insell said.
Before fouling out in overtime, Whitson finished with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Kseniya Malashka scored 12 points, grabbed six rebounds, and recorded two steals, while Saar scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds, had six assists, and recorded four steals.
Middle Tennessee forced eight turnovers in the first quarter, 12 by halftime, and 23 overall.
As the Lady Raiders spent one game on the road during tournament play, they will return to the Glass House Thursday to face Seton Hall (22-12) in the WNIT Semifinals, attempting to secure their 18th game in a row at home.