Lady Raiders bounce back against Lady Bruins
By: Chris Sakacsi
MTN Sports Reporter
After slow shooting start, MT uses brute force to scrap out a win
Murfreesboro, Tennessee- After a stunning loss at Mercer, the Lady Raiders (1-1) made their regular season home debut on Wednesday night during an in-state matchup against Belmont University (1-1). Despite a slow start offensively that included shooting woes from deep, the Lady Raiders brute forced their way to an 80-62 win. Kseniya Malashka scored a game-high 23 points while Savannah Wheeler continued her onslaught offensively with 22 of her own.
After starting the game 1-8 from the field, the Lady Raiders went on an absolute tear on both ends of the floor. Finding gaps in the Belmont offense, MT was able to wreak havoc
defensively to get transition baskets. They’d go on a 20-4 run to end the first quarter, giving the blue a 22-7 lead after one.
Despite the early lead Belmont started chipping away at the Lady Raiders lead in the second quarter as they held MT to 8 points while scoring 13 themselves. As the Lady Raiders went into the locker room, they lead 33-20 with an eerily unsafe advantage. Earlier in the season during Belmont’s home debut against Chattanooga, they trailed by as many as 14 through the first three quarters. The Lady Bruins then surmounted a comeback by scoring 25 in the fourth. With a team that could heat up at any moment, this was still anyone game.
MT Head Coach Rick Insell was confident coming out of halftime about his team’s ability to get stops. “I thought we defended as well as we possibly could,” he raved. “They had 17 turnovers at half, which isn’t normal for a team of their caliber.”
Forward Alexis Whittington didn’t make a lot of noise from a box score standpoint, but she had one of the most important impacts of the game. Coming into the game, Lady Bruins guard Destinee Wells was averaging 20 points per game on 48% shooting from the field. Whittington reduced the Belmont guard to rubble with incredible single player coverage and held her without a single shot attempt until midway through the third quarter. “I didn’t expect to hold her scoreless because she’s such a great player, Whittington explained. “I came in thinking how the team runs through her. If she can’t get into a flow, then the team has to find another way to score. I think it was an overall team effort with our defense because I wasn’t the only one on her.” In 33 minutes of play, Wells scored just 5 points on 2-3 shooting, and had a net rating of minus-15.
Although the Lady Raiders were cold from long range on the night shooting just 25%, the team let sheer will and physicality take over. The Lady Raiders outrebounded the visitors 41 to 29, ensuring they got second chance points if they couldn’t connect from distance. The home squad also outscored Belmont in the paint 46 to 18 thanks in part to both Malashka and Wheelers abilities to put their heads down amongst post players. Wheeler talked about the importance of contributing when shots aren’t falling. “When something’s not going your way in one part of the game you still need to find ways to produce,” she said. Not just individually, but as a team. If my threes aren’t falling, I’m coming off ball screens, kicking out, and looking for the post players.”
“Belmont’s a well-coached team with some great players,” Insell said. “They usually execute well so I’m proud of our ball team for getting the win.” With plenty of rest to prepare, MT ships out to test their luck at the Las Vegas Invitational against Texas Tech on Friday, November 25th at 1 pm.
Stats courtesy of stats.statbroadcast.com
Photo courtesy of Maya Lewis-Athletic Communications