MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Going up against a team that has gone to the NCAA tournament in six of the past seven years and playing in front of 3,273 vocal fans, the University of Memphis women’s basketball team (1-1) had its hands full in the Preseason WNIT second round game against Middle Tennessee, falling 82-68.
“I’m proud of this team. Middle Tennessee is a very good program and this is a very tough place to play as the visiting team,” Head Coach Melissa McFerrin said. “We had some mistakes that we can work out in practice. We only got out-rebounded by one on the road, but we gave up some stuff in transition defense that we will need to work on. But, we cut this game to 10 with just a couple of minutes to go, and then fatigue kind of got us. That comes with experience, getting some endurance late in the game, but I’m not at all disappointed in this effort.”
Facing a team that nailed 11 threes in its first round win on Friday night, the Tigers fell victim to the hot-shooting Blue Raider squad early, giving up five triples in the first eight minute segment of the game to fall behind early. But Memphis got out in transition behind the pressing Blue Raider pressure, forcing MTSU to pull out of their press and pulling the Tigers within single digits as Nicole Dickson corralled a missed Tiger free throw and stuck it back to give Memphis its only lead of the first half at 37-35.
But the Blue Raiders then turned to Icelyn Elie and Kortni Jones to power back to a 45-36 lead. The Blue Raider duo combined for 21 of the team’s last 24 points in the half, picking apart a Tiger defense that was whistled for 14 first half fouls. The foul trouble bit both the Tiger posts and guards, as Ann Jones, Mooriah Rowser and Pa’Sonna Hope all finished the first half with two fouls, while Lauren McGraw picked up her third foul in the waning seconds of the first half as the physical contest built toward the halftime break. Memphis shot 48.3 percent in the first half, but allowed the Blue Raiders to shoot 65.2 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three-point range.
Memphis started the second half again working the Blue Raider lead down to single digits. Memphis cut it to five at 49-44 off an Ann Jones stickback, but MTSU responded with a 6-0 run to push the lead back to 55-44 with 14:14 to go. The Tigers kept digging though, trimming the lead to seven at 55-48 off a Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir jumper. That lead was up to 13 at 63-50 when Nicole Dickson drained two free-throws and Lauren McGraw hit a layup and one to start a 5-0 Tiger run that again worked the lead to single digits. That’s when the Tigers’ transition defense started to fray, losing receivers on long fly passes as the Blue Raiders got lose and pushed the scored to 70-55.
After Memphis had shored up its half-court defense from the first half, the Tigers held Middle Tennessee to just two field goals from the half court set, but that meant the remainder of the Blue Raiders’ 37 second half points all came in transition and from the free-throw line.
Abdul-Qaadir tied a career-high, leading Memphis with 16 points on her birthday. Ariel Hearn added a career-best 13 points, while Nicole Dickson (11) and Mooriah Rowser (10) each added double-digits. Dickson led the Tigers with five rebounds, while Abdul-Qaadir added four steals.
Middle Tennessee had four players in double-digits, led by 30 from Elie on 12-of-19 shooting. Ebony Rowe added 19 points and Jones finished with 14.