NEW ORLEANS, La. – Aislynn Hayes will undoubtedly hit a lot of big shots before her Lady Raider career is complete, but the freshman guard knocked down the biggest of her young career Thursday night.
Hayes' 3-pointer from the top of the key with one second remaining lifted MTSU (2-1) to a fascinating 64-62 come-from-behind win at Tulane in what was a riveting comeback.
Indeed, this young team is growing up in a hurry.
After trailing by as many as 16 points in the first quarter and 12, 40-28, at halftime, MTSU clamped down in the second half with sterling defense and making pressure-packed baskets.
"I've been part of some big, big wins at Middle Tennessee but this one makes me as proud as any," Lady Raider coach Rick Insell said. "To be down like we were and to see our young team battle back against an experienced, well-coached Tulane team on the road is really fulfilling as a coach. I am so proud of this bunch."
Sophomore guard Taylor Sutton ignited the comeback with a career-best seven 3-pointers, including five in the second half and 3 in a gut-wrenching fourth quarter. Sutton finished with a season-best 24 points.
Anastasia Hayes poured in 19 points and pulled nine rebounds -- both career highs -- while adding four assists and three steals in another stat-sheet stuffing performance.
None of Anastasia Hayes' assists were bigger than her last. With 5.9 seconds remaining and trailing 62-61, Insell called a timeout to set up the game-winning play.
Anastasia Hayes made the inbound pass to Alexis Whittington on the sideline in front of the bench. Whittington got the ball back to Anastasia Hayes, who penetrated and then passed the ball to Aislynn Hayes at the top of the key. Aislynn Hayes calmly sank the 21-footer to complete the 18-point comeback.
"I have a lot of confidence in all of our players," Insell said. "I see them do it every day at practice. I had all the confidence in the world to call that play and the players executed it to perfection. What a big-time shot for a young player to make under pressure, but Aislynn is a winner. She's been there before. Taylor Sutton also made some big-time plays in that fourth-quarter to put us in position to get this big road win."
Charity Savage had another strong game with 10 rebounds, three assists and three steals, and Courtney Whitson added five points and five rebounds. Alexis Whittington added four points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals and a solid defensive effort.
The Lady Raiders kept battling back and pulled to within four early in the fourth quarter. When Whitson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back it closed the gap to 54-52, the closest MTSU had gotten to Tulane since it was 4-2.
One possession later, MTSU took its first lead since 2-0 to start the game when Sutton buried a corner 3 with 3:52 remaining for a 56-55 lead.
After Tulane (2-1) went back on top, Sutton came back with another 3 to push the lead to 58-56.
Krystal Freeman tied the game with a driving layup and, after a Lady Raider miss, provided her team with a 60-58 advantage with 1:09 remaining.
Sutton once again was solid under pressure as she converted her seventh 3-pointer of the night to put MTSU back on top, 61-60, with 51 seconds remaining.
Tulane powered the ball inside to Arsula Clark, who led the Green Wave with 23, and drew the foul and calmly sank two free throws to push her team back in front, 62-61, with 5.9 seconds remaining.
Insell called timeout to advance the ball and set up the final play, which proved to be the game winner to Aislynn Hayes.
Despite playing with a smaller lineup, MTSU won the rebounding battle 43-36, including an eye-popping 22 offensive caroms that led to 16 second-chance points. Savage had six of the offensive rebounds, while Anastasia Hayes, Aislynn Hayes and Whitson each added three.
MTSU, which has won two road games by a combined three points, will be back in action when it plays host to rival Tennessee Tech Thursday. Tipoff at Murphy Center is 6:30 p.m.