March marked the end of an era for Lady Raiders basketball. Having already celebrated Ty Petty’s final appearance at Murphy Center MT fans waited to see how long the Murfreesboro native could stretch out her decorated career.
The month started out with a Florida road trip to play Florida International and Florida Atlantic, and Middle proved its dominance.
In a blowout victory (88–53) over FIU Alex Johnson had yet another game of 30+ points as her 14-of-19 shooting resulted in 32. Abbey Sissom was hot from deep as she made good on five of nine shots beyond the arc for a game total of 17 points. Petty posted a double-double with 12 points and 11 assists in just 28 minutes of play.
The Lady Raiders got off to a bit slower of a start against FAU. The Owls held a sizeable advantage after one quarter, leading 18–7, but Middle fought back in the second quarter to take the lead at the half 35–34. Things stayed tight until late in the fourth quarter when Petty hit back-to-back threes to give MT a little breathing room. The Lady Raiders closed out the game with a 71–59 victory.
Petty led the way with 33 points and four steals, but it was Alex Johnson who reached a career milestone that night. Her 15-point performance put her over 1,000 career points in just her second season.
“Alex Johnson has been a force for us all season,” said coach Rick Insell. “To score 1,000 points in your first two seasons out of high school is so tough to do. Middle Tennessee has played Division I basketball for 42 years and Alex Johnson is the third player to achieve this. That’s pretty special.”
The next day Conference USA announced its all-conference honorees and superlative award winners. Petty and Johnson both were named All-Conference USA first team, and Abbey Sissom was named to the conference’s all-defensive team. Gabby Lyon received the honor of being named Sixth Player of the Year.
The Lady Raiders began what they hoped would be a long tournament run days later. Having clinched the second seed in the C-USA Tournament, the Lady Raiders were expected to at least make it through to championship game, however they would be challenged early by Rice.
Rice held the slight advantage after the first period, but the MT led at the half 30–25. A slow third quarter saw Middle score only nine points and trailing by two going into the fourth quarter. Ty Petty was not ready for her playing days to be over, however. The senior point guard scored 14 of the Lady Raiders’ 22 points to secure a narrow two point victory.
The win advanced MT to the conference semi-finals where they met Southern Miss. Both teams struggled from the field throughout the game as neither shot better than 38 percent, but it was the Lady Raiders who held the eight-point advantage late in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the Eagles went on a 18–5 run over the last six minutes, and Middle went scoreless over the last two giving Southern Miss the 59–54 victory.
After the loss, the Lady Raiders did not make the NCAA Tournament, but will host a game in the NIT in Murfreesboro on Thursday, March 16, against Morehead State. That contest is scheduled to tip off at 8:30 p.m.
“Being able to play for this university and Coach Insell and playing with this team is probably the best blessing I’ll ever come across,” Petty said. “My main thing was to get a ring on those freshmen’s hands. That was the big focus. Everything we’ve been through and playing with these girls, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We didn’t come out like we wanted to, but I’ve enjoyed every minute in that uniform.”