The Lady Raiders’ success in January would put them in good position to move into first place in Conference USA, but would they be able to seize the top spot in February?
They would get their first opportunity to do that at home against UTSA.
Ty Petty had the hot hand early, as 10 of her 20 points represented the first 10 points for the Lady Raiders. However, Petty could not single-handedly put the Blue Raiders ahead, as the Roadrunners held the 18–13 advantage after one quarter of play. The Lady Raiders opened the second quarter with a 10–0 run to help them to a 30–28 advantage at the half. A tightly contested third quarter saw MT lead by only one going into the final quarter, but the fourth was all Lady Raiders as they outscored the Roadrunners 22–9 on their way to a 77–63 victory.
Besides Petty, three other Blue Raiders scored in double figures against UTSA. Alex Johnson led the way with 24 points, Abbey Sissom chipped in 16, and Jess Louro scored a career-high 17. Petty also added nine assists to her stat line with just two turnovers.
UTEP came to Murphy Center next, and the Lady Raiders left no doubt as to who the better team was that day.
Middle jumped to a quick 14-point lead, but UTEP battled back to close the gap to five. However, MT responded with another run, and the game was never in question after that. The Lady Raiders ran away with the win, 76–53.
Petty led the way with 27 points while also adding five rebounds and six assists, and Johnson overcame foul trouble to score 25 points in just 25 minutes of play. Louro again proved her value as a supporting role player with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The Lady Raiders next took to the road to face Old Dominion, and the first half was all MT as they held a 41–30 lead at the half. However, ODU started off the third quarter with a 12–0 run to take their first and only lead of the game. It was short-lived as Petty answered with a three-pointer to regain the lead for the Lady Raiders. Middle went on to win the game 80–63.
Johnson led all scorers with 28 points and also pulled down 10 rebounds. Petty scored 24 points herself, while also contributing six assists and three steals. Gabby Lyon recorded her first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
The win put MT half a game ahead of Western Kentucky for the top spot in Conference USA.
The Lady Raiders next traveled to Charlotte where they took full control of the game early. Middle led by as much as 23 in the game, but the 49ers came roaring back in the fourth quarter to take their first lead late in the fourth quarter. It was a back-and-forth game from the four-minute mark on, but it was Rebecca Reuter who put MT back in the lead for good. Reuter was fouled on an offensive rebound and put-back, and then converted the three-point play opportunity. The Lady Raiders closed out the win 83–81.
Instead of the usual suspects of Petty and Johnson leading the way, it was Reuter and Louro. Reuter led all scorers with 23 points while pulling down seven rebounds, five of which were on the offensive end. Louro chipped in 18 points, all of which were from beyond-the-arc, and pulled down five rebounds. Petty filled up the stat sheet with 18 points of her own while recording eight assists, six rebounds and three steals. Johnson posted 16 points and six rebounds.
“I am truly humbled and overwhelmed by this tremendous news,” Insell said. “To be included in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is one of the highest honors one can achieve, so to be recognized for contributions to a game I love and have dedicated my life to is exceptional. I share this achievement with my supportive family, every single person who has played for me from junior pro, junior high, Shelbyville High School, AAU and Middle Tennessee State University. I also share this with all of my assistant coaches and support staff through the years. They all have played a part in any success I have had.”
Insell’s induction ceremony will be held in Knoxville on June 9 and 10 along with the rest of the 2017 class.
Insell’s first game as a hall of fame inductee-to-be came against rival Western Kentucky. A win here would have given Middle a full game lead in the C-USA standings. WKU held a 10-point advantage at the half; however, MT clawed back in the third quarter to close the deficit to just three. The Lady Raiders got within a point late in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Toppers pulled away with an 11-to-5 run. MT had their five-game win streak snapped in a 82–75 loss.
Alex Johnson led all scorers with 33 points and her six rebounds were also best of the night. Petty and Sissom each stuffed the stat sheet. Petty had 17 points, five rebounds and five assists, and Sissom posted 14 points, five rebounds and five assists of her own. The Lady Raiders as a team actually outperformed WKU in nearly every statistical category, but the Lady Toppers won the turnover battle as they committed only six as compared to MT’s 16.
The Lady Raiders didn’t have long to recover from the tough loss, as Marshall came to town just two days later. Despite Petty and Johnson each struggling with foul trouble, Middle put on a dominant performance that proved their depth.
The Lady Raiders jumped out to a big lead in the first quarter, and never let up on their way to a 94–69 victory. Petty still led all scorers with 22 points while also dishing eight assists and pulling down five rebounds. Kyla Allison scored 13 points, marking her first collegiate game of double-digit scoring. Sissom, Lyon, Johnson and Louro each scored 12 points apiece.
In the final home game of the year MT hosted UAB on Senior Night. Petty, the lone senior, did not disappoint in her final showing in Murfreesboro as her 12 assists made her just the second Lady Raider to record more than 500 in a career.
Abbey Sissom put together a career performance of her own, sinking eight of nine 3-point attempts for a career-high 25 points. Alex Johnson saw limited minutes due to foul trouble, but still tossed in 22 points. The Lady Raiders ran away with the victory 87–56. The win earned them a first-round bye in the C-USA Tournament.
MT will need some help, but a regular season championship is still within reach. They trail WKU by one game with two games remaining on the regular season schedule. They will travel to Florida for those final two games to take on FIU and FAU.