GREENEVILLE, N.C. – MTSU's women used a riveting second half to turn a halftime deficit into a thrilling 68-66 win in the season opener against East Carolina in front of 6,509 Wednesday.
The Lady Raiders (1-0) outscored East Carolina 46-36 in the second half after trailing 30-22 at halftime to secure victory.
"I was proud of the young ladies and how they battled and fought for this win," Lady Raider coach Rick Insell said. "It was an outstanding effort, particularly in the second half. This young team had to grow up in a hurry today."
MTSU features one of the youngest rosters in the nation with nine combined sophomores and freshmen, but the youngsters played with poise during the decisive second half as they dominated the boards and were outstanding in transition.
Senior Charity Savage led the way with her first career double-double as she poured in 16 points and collected 13 rebounds – both career highs. Savage was 4-of-5 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. She knocked down eight straight charity tosses after missing her first two.
Heralded freshman Courtney Whitson was stellar in her first career start as she turned in 15 points and pulled five rebounds. Whitson knocked down three 3-pointers, including two pressure-packed shots in the fourth quarter.
Sophomore newcomer Anastasia Hayes narrowly missed a triple-double with 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in her Lady Raider debut. Taylor Sutton rounded out four players in double figures with 12 points on the strength of four 3-pointers. Sutton also came up big in the clutch with the game hanging in the balance. Freshman Aislynn Hayes was a stat sheet stuffer in her MTSU debut as she supplied eight points, five rebounds, dished out four assists and collected one steal.
"Everyone who played did some big things to contribute to this win," Insell said. "I am proud of all of them. Watching them play you would never know how young we were. They played with a lot of poise, except maybe in the final minute. We survived that and it is always huge to get wins on the road."
Back-to-back 3-pointers from a pair of freshmen supplied the dagger in the fourth quarter. Leading by four with under eight minutes remaining, Whitson knocked down a corner trey to push the lead to 56-49 with 7:21 remaining. After a defensive stop, Aislynn Hayes buried a 3-pointer from the wing to give MTSU its biggest lead – 59-49 with 6:06 remaining.
The outcome looked well in hand after Savage used a nice inside move to give MTSU a commanding 65-51 lead with 3:32 remaining. However, East Carolina had one last rally in the tank. The Pirates (0-1) trimmed the lead to six with 32 seconds remaining.
Two missed free throws and a late turnover gave East Carolina a chance to tie or win on its final possession, but the MTSU defense was true to the task and Whitson corralled the final rebound of the contest.
"We made it interesting there at the end," Insell said. "We are going to have to live through some growing pains with some young mistakes, but I liked what I saw out there today."
MTSU will turn its attention to its home opener where they will play host to No. 13 Kentucky Sunday at 3 p.m.