The opening minutes of the game looked to be just that. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, the team’s offense never decided to show up.
Middle was missing starting freshman Jordyn Luffman who was reportedly battling an illness. This meant the team would have to rely on the bench.
Unfortunately for Blue Raider fans and head coach Rick Insell, the bench was not remotely prepared for the kind of stage presented by the NCAA Tournament.
Jamila Ajanaku played 18 minutes Sunday night and Laken Leonard played six. The two combine for barely more than 100 minutes on the season. To give you an idea, the team has three players with more than 1,000 minutes on the season.
Keke Stewart, who has put in a decent amount of time from the bench, scored the team’s only seven points from the bench.
The starters, meanwhile, looked tired on the court for much of the game. Anne Marie Lanning, who averaged nearly 39 minutes per game (which are 40 minutes long) and Kortni Jones, who averaged nearly 35 minutes, combined to go three for 16 from behind the arc and five for 22 overall.
Part of the shooting struggles looked to be the team’s shot selection. The team settled for a great number of shots that were very, very deep. It seemed like the team took shots because they were open without considering the reason they may be open is because they were from NBA three-point territory.
That being said, the looks that were good for the Raiders were still coming up short. The jump shots for the team throughout the game looked lazy.
Defensively the team played fine. They forced a good number of turnovers and should have been in a position to at least challenge Georgia late in the game.
One matchup Georgia dominated was that between Raider freshman Ebony Rowe and Lady Bulldog senior Porsha Phillips.
Phillips made Rowe look like a freshman Sunday. This is something not many have done through the season. She out-rebounded Rowe 14 to five and held Middle’s leading scorer to only 10 points. Rowe didn’t even score until late in the second half.
What the game came down to was the Raiders lack of experience in the tournament and lack of experience on the bench showing through.
Next season the team should still look very good. The Raiders will return a great deal of players. The only active player they will lose from the team put on the court Sunday is guard Anne Marie Lanning.
What they will have to do different, is that they must learn from Sunday’s game. The bench needs experience. Middle cannot match up against the nation’s best teams without being able to bring in players who can add to what the starters provide.