On Sunday, the MTSU women’s basketball team faced in-state foe Memphis in the second round of the 2012 WNIT Preseason Tournament.
Around campus, these players are treated as heroes, because of their success over the past few seasons. However, there were some real heroes at the Veterans Day game. More than 3,200 past and present military in the audience, who were honored with free tickets to the game.
One of the big moments of the afternoon came before the game, when a former solider who took part in one of the United States most dangerous missions sang the National Anthem.
One of those former military members and current Murfreesboro resident, J.T. Cooper had the biggest task of the pregame cerebration by singing the National Anthem. However, nothing compares of what he went through on the field of battle.
Back in 1993, Cooper was a part of the Alpha Company 2-14 Infantry Division, based out of Fort Drum, N.Y. He was a member of the group who took part in the Battle of Mogadishu, commonly known as the Blackhawk Down mission in Somalia.
The mission started as an attempted to seize two high-echelon lieutenants in the Somali Army. Shortly after the assault began, Somali militia and armed civilian fighters managed to down two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters over the city.
The subsequent rescue operation to secure and recover the crews of both helicopters, intended to last no more than an hour, turned into an overnight standoff in the city. The battle resulted in approximately 20 deaths, 80 wounded, and one helicopter pilot captured amongst the raid party and rescue forces, and an estimated 1,500 and 3,000 Somali casualties.
Cooper was one of the wounded during the mission and he earned the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service. Cooper also lost his roommate, James Martin during that same mission.
On Sunday, he took performing the National Anthem as a badge of honor, especially when his brothers and sisters in combat were honored for its service before the contest.
“It’s an honor and a privilege," Cooper said about 30 minutes before the game, "being a combat veteran, it is very important for us to be honored on days like this, and remember those like my friend who was killed in battle.”
For the Lady Raider players and coaches playing on Veterans Day also has special meaning for them, too.
“It’s really means a lot, a lot of us have family members in the military,” junior forward Ebony Rowe, who finished 19 points, said after the game. “It’s an honor to play for them, and they came out supported us. We just hoped we entertained them and gave them a good show.”
As for the game, the Blue Raiders advanced to the semifinals of the WNIT with an 82-68 over the Tigers. Senior forward Icelyn Elie led the way with 30 points, and she also helped hold one of the top players in Conference USA, Nicole Dickson to only 11.
“That’s Alysha Clark, Amber Holt figures there offensively and defensively,” Blue Raider head coach Rick Insell said after the game. “She was not going to be denied and I think she made a few big shots today.”
Elie added she put this game into focus because of her defensive matchup and facing Memphis for the first time since 2002.
MTSU was coming off a first round 87-45 victory against Kennesaw State on Nov. 9 inside the Murphy Center. Memphis also won its opening game in the WNIT easily, 92-42 over Grambling State on the same night.
The Lady Raiders are headed Wednesday to the University of Iowa for a semifinal of the WNIT tournament.
This is the first ever meeting between the schools. However, Insell knows it will be a tough challenge for MTSU.
“I know they got a lot of basketball IQ,” Insell said. “They’ve got some good shooters. They have a good team, and a good program.”
A MTSU victory sends it to the championship game against either the winner of the North Carolina/Georgetown game, which is also Wednesday.
The title game is this Sunday at 3 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.