MTSU showed its stamina well against Lady Vols

MTSU's Shanice Cason saves the ball from going out of bounds while defended by Tennessee's Jasmine Jones at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. 
  
  
 (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Photo by Saul Young, 2012 Knoxville News Sentinel

MTSU's Shanice Cason saves the ball from going out of bounds while defended by Tennessee's Jasmine Jones at Thompson-Boling Arena on Wednesday, November 28, 2012. (Saul Young/News Sentinel)

Player depth rarely has mattered less at Thompson-Boling Arena than it did Wednesday evening.

Relying basically on only five players, Middle Tennessee State led 16th-ranked Tennessee from the opening tip to the 4:26 mark of the second half before losing in overtime 88-81.

Five players played 43 or more minutes for the Blue Raiders (4-2). And their exhibition of stamina was nothing new.

It was the third time this season three players had played more than 40 minutes for MTSU, whose only other loss was in overtime to Iowa.

Coach Rick Insell credited his players as well as his conditioning coach for that.

"We've got an old Jefferson County boy doing our conditioning," Insell said with a smile. "He does a great job."

Insell then pointed out his conditioning coach's UT connection: "He's the brother of Spencer Riley (the starting center on Tennessee's 1998 national championship football team)."

If the Blue Raiders felt fatigued, there was no evidence of it until the overtime period when Tennessee outscored them 15-8.

Turnovers by MTSU point guard Shanice Cason figured prominently in UT's overtime surge. Afterward, Insell second-guessed himself for not using backup point guard Janay Brinkley before Cason fouled out with 36 seconds to play.

Cason, one of four in-state players in MTSU's starting lineup, had 13 points and eight rebounds

but also committed seven turnovers. She drew her third foul with 5:13 left in the first half and her fourth with 11:04 to play in regulation.

Her foul trouble wasn't MTSU's biggest problem.

Starting center KeKe Stewart of Oak Ridge suffered a knee injury in the first two minutes and didn't return to the game.

"KeKe had been playing as good as anybody we've got," said Insell, who didn't know the extent of her injury. "She's one of our best shooters. It really did hurt us as to what our scheme was coming into the game."

Stewart, a 6-foot-1 junior, had earned a starting spot against the Lady Vols after scoring 10 points in just 13 minutes of MTSU's last game, a 72-45 victory over Louisiana.

Icelyn Elie, who had a game-high 21 points, teamed with Ebony Rowe (19 points) and Laken Leonard (17 points, including five 3-pointers in eight attempts) to carry the MTSU offense. Oak Ridge's Kortni Jones added nine points and a game-high eight assists for MTSU, which led by as many as 12 points.

Despite the loss, MTSU vindicated itself after last season's embarrassing 82-43 defeat on the same floor.

"We talked about that game for the whole year," Insell said. "Coming back here, we wanted to prove to ourselves we were a better basketball team than what we showed up here last year."

The Blue Raiders proved that and then some.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 4

RockyTop1_old writes:

Games like this will help them later this year and maybe as soon as the next game! GO LADY VOLS!!!

madrigal writes:

MTSU is not peanuts. They have been an up-and-coming team for several years. But like a lot of teams in that position, they haven't been able to attract top 100 players. That they do as well with recruits who aren't necessarily the cream of the crop speaks well for their coaches. They need more depth, however, because much more in the way of injury (and I hope KeKe doesn't have an ACL tear) and they will be sunk. I think they put up a darn good fight last night and I'm proud the Lady Vols never quit.

johnlg00 writes:

After MTSU's display of stamina and fortitude, I'm afraid the LVs will have a bit of extra running to look forward to. If I were Holly, I might have to ask myself, "If they can go that hard, that long with only five players, why do we have players that get tired and cramp up while playing half to two-thirds as many minutes?"

johnlg00 writes:

in response to madrigal:

MTSU is not peanuts. They have been an up-and-coming team for several years. But like a lot of teams in that position, they haven't been able to attract top 100 players. That they do as well with recruits who aren't necessarily the cream of the crop speaks well for their coaches. They need more depth, however, because much more in the way of injury (and I hope KeKe doesn't have an ACL tear) and they will be sunk. I think they put up a darn good fight last night and I'm proud the Lady Vols never quit.

I guess if they got that kind of performance from the team with only two minutes from Stewart, they are still OK for now. However, your point is well taken. For one thing, their main five might get worn down over the course of the season, hurting them the most at the end when the games really count. For another, a bad injury to one of their other mainstays could sink them even sooner. Out of respect for the effort and talent they showed last night, I too hope Stewart's injury isn't serious and they go on to have a successful season.

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