Championship aspirations were high for MTSU's women as they went into the locker room with a 34-26 halftime lead against No. 24 Rice in the title game of the C-USA Championship.
Rice, however, showed why it has a national ranking and went undefeated in league play this season with a dominating second half to dash the Lady Raiders' hopes of a tile and automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament with a 69-54 win.
The Owls (28-3) won their 21st straight to earn the title. MTSU (22-10) will await its postseason destination until Monday when the NCAA and WNIT fields are announced.
"Rice is a quality basketball team, and I wish them the absolute best in the NCAA Tournament," Lady Raider coach Rick Insell said. "They are solid. We knew they would come out with a strong third quarter as they have all season. We just made too many mistakes and didn't play well enough in the second half to beat a team playing as well as them.
"I believe we will be in the postseason. We will have to wait and see where we land Monday."
All-Tournament selection Alex Johnson was phenomenal as she dominated the paint to the tune of a game-high 27 points to go with six rebounds and three assists. She surpassed the 1,850-point mark for her illustrious career.
Johnson was 10-of-20 from the field to lead the charge. All-Tournament selection A'Queen Hayes tallied 10 points and six rebounds, while Taylor Sutton finished with 10 points and four assists.
Nancy Mulkey led Rice with 24 points, eight blocked shots and five rebounds.
MTSU had one of its best halves of the season in the opening 20 minutes and led 34-26 at intermission after Johnson poured in 16 first-half points.
The difference in the game was at the free-throw line. Rice made one more field goal than Middle Tennessee (22-to-21) and the 3-point field goals were even with each team knocking down six. Rice; however, was 19-of-21 from the free-throw line while the Lady Raiders ventured to the charity stripe just six times, knocking down all six.