TROY, Ala. – The non-conference showdown between Middle Tennessee and Troy, contenders for their respective league tiles, promised to be a battle here Tuesday.
It proved to be an epic fight to the finish as Middle Tennessee (7-2) demonstrated tremendous moxie in overcoming an 11-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining to stun their former Sun Belt Conference rivals, 67-64, at Trojan Arena.
The Lady Raiders (7-2) extended their winning streak to five games while ending the Troy (6-2) win streak at six. Middle Tennessee’s largest advantage was the final score of three.
“I really can’t say enough to compliment the will and guts and determination of our team to come back and win this game on the road against a very good Troy team that will contend for the Sun Belt Championship,” Lady Raider Head Coach Rick Insell said. “There were so many big plays and big moments. The biggest thing is our young ladies never quit believing. We stayed with our system and we just executed. We hit big shots and we defended.”
Freshman Taylor Sutton continued her stellar campaign and led the Lady Raiders with a career-high 25-point outburst to go with four assists. Senior guard Jess Louro was also superb, especially from beyond the arc, where she tied her career-high with six treys on her way to 18 points, five rebounds and four steals in 37 minutes.
Senior Alex Johnson rounded out the double-figure scoring with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field in 40 workhorse minutes of action.
It wasn’t all about the scoring as the Lady Raiders held Troy 20 points below its 84-point per game scoring average, which is 16th nationally. It was also about team rebounding. No Lady Raider had more than six, but four players had at least four. Kyla Allison’s six boards, including three offensive, led the way. Louro and Majors added five each, and Johnson added four.
Perhaps there was no bigger defensive play than Jordan Majors taking a charge in the waning seconds and the game hanging in the balance.
“There were so many contributors and to win a tough game like this on the road, you have to have a lot of different people step up,” Insell said. “Look at Kyla Allison and Jordan Majors, for example, they combined for 11 rebounds, six on the offensive glass. That’s just determination.”
Things appeared bleak for the Lady Raiders, who actually faced two 11-point deficits in the fourth quarter after trailing by just three after three quarters. They trailed 64-53 when Sutton started a monumental rally that saw her score 14 of her 25 in the pivotal frame. It also ignited a 14-0 Lady Raider run to end the game.
Sutton’s 3-pointer with 2:59 remaining cut the deficit to 64-56. After a defensive stop, Sutton was fouled in the act of shooting a 3-pointer and nailed all three charity tosses to cut the lead to 64-59 with 2:23 remaining.
After Johnson collected a steal she was fouled and hit one free throw. Johnson missed the second, but Kyla Allison pulled the offensive carom and dished it to Louro, who drained her career-high tying sixth 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to 64-63 with 1:28 to play.
Another defensive stop was followed by a Majors rebound. Sutton was fouled on the offensive end and buried both free throws to give the Lady Raiders a 65-64 lead with 1:03 remaining.
The Lady Raiders forced a miss but was guilty of a shot-clock violation on the offensive end with 16 seconds remaining, allowing Troy to call a timeout, advance the ball to halfcourt and set up its game-winning play.
Majors had other ideas.
Sky’Lynn Holmes took the ball and drove baseline toward the basket, but Majors slid into defensive position, took the gutsy charge and Middle Tennessee regained possession.
Sutton was fouled with nine seconds remaining but uncharacteristically misfired on both attempts; however, Allison grabbed her third offensive rebound of the game and was fouled. Allison supplied both free throws to push the lead to three, 67-64, and Troy turned the ball over while trying to get off a potential game-tying 3-pointer with one second remaining.
NOTES: Johnson moved into 12th on the Lady Raider career scoring list in the win, passing Stephanie Capley and Sharon McClannahan. Johnson currently has 1,476 points and is 22 points shy of passing Blue Raider Hall of Famer Amber Holt for 11th …. MT improved to 17-1 against Troy under Head Coach Rick Insell … A’Queen Hayes did not have her customary double-figure scoring game but she was a stat sheet stuffer and contributed to victory with four steals, three assists, three rebounds and two blocked shots.