By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – After opening the season with an exhibition win over Tusculum and a victory against Tennessee Wesleyan, there was no question that the Tennessee Tech women's basketball team was going to see the difficulty curve ramp up.
But even though the Golden Eagles fell 58-44 to Middle Tennessee on Tuesday night, there was still plenty to be excited about in the young season.
"We grew up a lot tonight," said Tech head coach Kim Rosamond, "and we still have a lot of growing up to do."
"Our kids battled," said Rosamond. "We played hard, but by the end of the game, they did what champions do. They refuse to lose. That is a disciplined, well-coached basketball team. I am beyond proud of the effort and the fight our kids showed.
Turnovers, however, were a factor. Tech lost the ball 27 times, allowing the Blue Raiders to convert those into 26 points.
"Twenty-six points off of 27 turnovers isn't going to win you a lot of games," Rosamond said, "especially against a quality opponent like Middle. Their pressure – Coach (Rick) Insell has a formula for success and they don't veer much from that formula. We couldn't even enter the ball, so they just did a great job of taking us out of our offense, so we were having to run a lot of quick hits. Once those didn't work, we really struggled to get anything offensively.
"After Friday night (against Tennessee Wesleyan), we felt like we needed to improve a lot defensively. We did, but now we kind of have to go back to the drawing board as far as offense. But we haven't seen pressure like that and we tried to simulate it with our practice guys. When the lights come on and it's a 40-minute game, you really can't simulate it until you go against it. I can tell you this – we're a better basketball team already because of this. We'll take this and grow from it."
The Golden Eagles were able to slow down the Blue Raiders, forcing 23 turnovers of their own. Tech also forced MTSU into a 5:08 drought to open the second half.
"It wasn't perfect, but I don't know if it could have gotten a whole lot better on the defensive end," Rosamond said. "I know Middle was without Alex Johnson (with a high ankle sprain) which is a huge part of their offense. She's a great player, but they're a great team. I'm proud of our effort on defense and on the boards. Offensively, we've got a lot of work to do. We didn't handle their pressure very well.
But it wasn't a high-scoring affair. Middle Tennessee surged out to a seven-point, 14-7 seven advantage just under a minute to guy in the opening quarter. The Golden Eagles then went on a 7-2 run to get back within two (14-16) on a Harris 3-point play. After Abby Buckner made a layup with 4:46 remaining in the half to make it 16-18, the Golden Eagles went silent as MTSU scored the final 10 points of the half.
Eighteen of Tech's 27 turnovers came in the first half.
In the third, however, the Golden Eagles showed that they weren't going to back down to their Conference USA counterparts. Tech outscored Middle Tennessee 17-9 in the third quarter.
"We started getting offense out of our defense," Rosamond said. "We knew we couldn't get into a half-court game with these guys. That's what we did for much of the first two quarters and the last few minutes of the fourth, because we stopped getting stops. When we were getting stops, we kept them scoreless through the first five minutes of the third and held them to nine points.
"We didn't have to come down and go five-on-five. We were able to run and get things in transition, so that was a key for us to close that gap."
The Golden Eagles chipped away and chipped away, then tied the game for the third time with 2:09 left in the third as Hickson drained a three to knot the game at 33.
"We just wanted to find a way to get us going," Hickson said. "We always want to focus on us and see what we can do to get everybody involved into the game. To come out with a run like that, it gave us some confidence and show just what we can do if we execute."
The Blue Raiders scored the last four points of the period to take a 37-33 lead. Tech was only able to score two points in the first four minutes of the final quarter, as MTSU extended its lead back out to nine in that span. With two minutes left in the contest, the Blue Raiders were up by 14 – their largest lead of the contest.
Rebecca Reuter led MTSU (2-0) with 23 points, while LaSonja Edwards added 10.
The Golden Eagles return to action on Friday as they travel to East Tennessee State. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Central.
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information