MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Middle Tennessee cruised to a big home victory, 69-39, over Coppin State in front of thousands of Middle Tennessee’s youngest fans Tuesday morning.
With close to 8,000 elementary school students from Murfreesboro City Schools in attendance for MT’s annual Education Day Game, the Lady Raiders (5-2) used good ball movement and a stingy defense to blow past the Eagles (1-8) and end a two-game skid.
“You have to give credit to Coppin State, they’ve played just about everyone in the country,” Lady Raider head coach Rick Insell said. “We’ll take this game. We got everyone out of it – no one got hurt on our team or their team.
“I’m very, very thankful for (Murfreesboro City Schools Director) Dr. (Linda) Gilbert. At one time they said they rain might run them off, but she stood firm and it was a great experience for them and bigger experience for our players.”
The score stood at 6-5 in favor of Coppin State just over two minutes into the action, but from there it was all Middle Tennessee.
The Lady Raiders nailed four 3-pointers over the rest of the first quarter and finished the frame on a 20-5 run to take a 25-11 advantage to the first break. That would eventually turn into a 41-21 MT lead at halftime.
It was Middle Tennessee’s snappy ball movement that proved to be the driving piece on the offensive side. The Raiders, who went into the game averaging just 12 assists per game, had 19 on 26 made baskets, 10 of those makes coming from 3-point range. They turned the ball over just nine times.
“We knew they were going to zone us most of the game, so we worked on our zone offense in practice, knocking down shots and our posts getting rebounds and putting shots back up,” junior Jess Louro said.
With its careful ball handling on the offensive end, Middle Tennessee went to work on the defensive side to shut down the Eagles.
The Lady Raiders rank 10th in the country giving up just 52.7 points per game and were dominant again, limiting Coppin State to just 28 percent shooting (15-of-54) and forcing 16 turnovers. They’ve held every opponent this season under 40 percent shooting from the field.
“I guess we held them defensively about as good as anybody,” Insell said. “I didn’t think we moved as well defensively as we have been … but we got the job done.”
Louro, the team’s leading scorer at 11.8 points per game, again spearheaded the offensive output. She hit 5-of-14 attempts from three and finishing with 18 points and nine rebounds to pace the Lady Raiders.
Behind Louro in the scoring column was a surprising Lady Raider. Sophomore Charity Savage, who had a career game high of just 10 minutes played going into the day, made her first career start and didn’t disappoint. The Memphis native finished with career highs in most categories, including 13 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals in 26 minutes.
“I was nervous at the beginning, because I’ve never started,” Savage said. “I just tried to make the most of the opportunity I had.”
Senior Gabby Lyon added 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, eight rebounds and two steals.
Middle Tennessee doesn’t get to enjoy being in Murfreesboro for long, as it hits the road again Saturday to take on No. 4 Louisville. It will be the fifth away contest in eight games this season for the Lady Raiders.
“This is what you come to Middle Tennessee for, to play on a national platform,” Insell said. “I’m not going there to be a sacrificial lamb, I’m going in to win the basketball game.
“You keep messing around with the snake, and you’ll get bit. Somebody is fixing to get bit with this little bunch, because they’re pretty good.”
The game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. CT tipoff.