Arizona State made the trip to the Murphy Center Tuesday and proved too much for Middle Tennessee, winning 69-48.
The Sun Devils (7-2), who were ranked No. 23 in the country in the latest AP poll, were the third ranked team the Blue Raiders (2-5) have faced this season.
“They just took it to us, that’s all you can say. They’re just a better basketball team,” MTSU Head Coach Rick Insell said. “I thought we played hard, I just didn’t think we played smart.
“We’ve been here before. What we have to do is keep working, just have to keep getting in there and grinding. We’re not a bad basketball team, we just have to get some things tuned in right.”
It was Arizona’s State length that troubled the Blue Raiders.
The Sun Devils, who utilize eight players listed at 6-foot or taller, made putting up shots difficult for Middle Tennessee all over the floor with their length and on-ball pressure. The Raiders hit just 39.5 percent (17-43) of their attempts from the field, compared to a 55.8-percent shooting night for Arizona State. The Devils also outrebounded MTSU 32-16.
“Sometimes we were sagging off because we knew they were taller and longer, but we can’t use that as an excuse because most teams that we play are taller and longer than us,” said sophomore Alex Johnson, who finished with a season-high 21 points.
MT’s offensive struggles started right away, as ASU jumped out to a 21-6 advantage after the first quarter and held the lead the rest of the contest.
Despite its size disadvantage, MT made a concerted effort to score down low. Twenty-six of the Blue Raiders’ 48 points came in the paint, led by Johnson.
“I thought Alex, after she got on track, did a good job attacking,” Insell said. “They had some pretty good size in there.”
Junior forward Rebecca Reuter added six points, all of which came in the paint, while freshman Kyla Allison added eight and senior Ty Petty had six.
While Middle Tennessee may not have taken care of the ball to Insell’s liking, committing 18 turnovers, the Raiders did a good job of getting the ball back. They forced the Sun Devils to cough the ball up 24 times, leading to 19 MTSU points.
“I feel like we’ve had some better nights on defense, but tonight for the most part we came down and defended,” Johnson said. “But, like I said, we could always get better at that.”
Looking ahead with Austin Peay set to travel to Murfreesboro on Saturday, Insell wants to see his club protect the ball better and get back to rebounding the basketball.
“I’m concerned about getting back in the gym and working on the fundamentals and getting our players back to where they need to be,” he said. “We’ve played seven games. We probably have 25, 26 more games. My big thing now is getting these young kids tougher and getting them more polished to where they’re more familiar with what we’re trying to do.”
The contest Saturday against Austin Peay is scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. at the Murphy Center.
Tuesday’s game was also MT’s first “We Back Pat” game. The night, benefiting The Pat Summit Foundation, focused on bringing awareness and recognition to the foundation and the fight against Alzheimer’s disease. Insell and his staff all sported purple articles of clothing, the color representing Alzheimer’s awareness.