MTSU's women needed a strong second-half effort from its two scoring leaders in order to run their win streak to three, and they obliged in a 71-61 win against Rice at Murphy Center Thursday.
Ty Petty (24 points) and Alex Johnson (22) combined for 46 of MTSU's 71 points, or 75 percent of the scoring as the Lady Raiders (7-6, 2-0 C-USA) won their third straight and fifth in six outings. MTSU improved to 5-0 all-time against the Owls (9-5, 0-3).
"You don't come into any game and have a given," MTSU coach Rick Insell said. "That's Conference USA - it's tough, good coaches, good players, and Rice has got a good team. They're not indicative of that 0-3 [record]. They're going to be in the mix before the year is over."
Things weren't looking good in the second half, as the Owls led 35-32 with six minutes left in the third quarter, but Petty and Johnson showed why they're the leaders of the team and preseason all-conference selections.
The two guided the Blue Raiders on a 19-8 run to end the third quarter, then they held tough through the final frame to escape with the win.
Petty, the newest member of MTSU's 1,000-point club and reigning national player of the week, scored 13 of her team-high 24 points after halftime, while Johnson poured in 17 of her 22 points in the second half.
"Offensively, we knew we were going to get shots and it was just a matter of scoring them," Petty said. "Defensively, we just had to step up. It was just sticking to our system and sticking together and playing team ball."
In addition to Johnson and Petty's heroics, Abbey Sissom added eight points, five rebounds and three assists, while fellow junior Rebecca Reuter added eight points and eight rebounds. Gabby Lyon was once again a beast on the boards. Lyon led MTSU's rebounding effort with nine caroms to go with six points.
While things may not have been pretty at times for MTSU against Conference USA's best scoring defense, shooting just 40.7 percent from the floor, the Blue Raiders helped their cause from the free-throw line.
MTSU went into the game ranked second in CUSA shooting 76.7 percent from the stripe, and it knocked home 16 of its 18 attempts, led by Johnson (12-13). The Blue Raiders have hit 55 of their 60 shots from the line (91.6 percent) over the last three games combined.
"This is what we work on after practice," Petty said. "We put in the time to work on our free throws, because coach tells us free throws are what're going to win championships. He's been hard on us, and we've taken it in and taken on responsibility to knock down our free throws."
Petty also rose to sixth place on the all-time MTSU career assists list with eight helpers, and is just five back of Courtney Neeley for fifth on the list.
"Ty has many qualities, and I think her biggest is her vision," Johnson said. "With her vision, she's able to not only see me but see if they're doubling down and is able to kick it back out to the guards. Her ability and lateral quickness gives her a big advantage against people."
"We still have a lot to work on, but it goes back to our tough pre-conference season games," Petty said. "We're not where we need to be, but we're taking it one step at a time. Like coach said, every conference game is going to be like the last two."
They will hope to continue that hot play Saturday, when the North Texas Mean Green travels to the Murphy Center for a 6 p.m. tipoff.