COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Middle Tennessee stood toe-to-toe with No. 10-ranked Florida State for the better part of three quarters in the first round of the NCAA Championships here Saturday afternoon, but the fifth-seeded Seminoles pulled away late for a 72-55 win at Reed Arena.
The 12th- seeded Blue Raiders (24-9) trailed 43-42 with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter but a 6-0 Seminole run in the final 1:32, including a game-changing 3-pointer in transition with five seconds remaining seemed to shift momentum and turn the game in Florida State's favor.
By the time the dust had settled, Florida State (24-7) had built a 49-42 advantage and it continued to pull away early in the fourth quarter.
"More than anything, I think it kind of got away from us at the end of the third quarter," Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Insell said. "We were down (two) and we missed a 3-pointer, then they go down and hit one. That was big. They got up seven. Then we starter the fourth quarter with a turnover and they hit another 3, and then they were on a roll and they began to play downhill. That was, I think, the difference in the ball game."
Blue Raider freshman standout Alex Johnson capped a brilliant breakout season with a strong performance against the bigger Florida State post players. Johnson finished with a game-high 22 points and collected four steals.
Johnson's strong play had the Blue Raiders on the verge of the upset. The game was tied five time in the third quarter as Johnson proved to be a consistent scorer in the paint.
"I've said all along, Alex Johnson was going to be a great player," Insell said. "She will get in the weight room this summer and work on her strength and conditioning, and work on her 3-point shot. I just think the sky's the limit. She's got a great touch. She's very intelligent. She loves the game. She got all of the intangibles. Now it's going to be up to her to take it to another level."
Brea Edwards capped her career with her 11th double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Ty Petty added 10 points.
While the game showcased a great future with nine players returning, including four starters. It also marked the end of the Blue Raider careers of Edwards, TiAnna Porter and Caroline Warden.
"We lose three seniors and Caroline played hurt today," Insell said. "She's been playing hurt for about two weeks. I was real proud of her. She gave us some good minutes. TiAnna's been great down the stretch. The last two months have been her best two months of basketball. We needed someone to step up, and she stepped up for us.
"Brea Edwards has just been steady all year. She rebounds the basketball, knocks down shots, and passes the ball. She does everything that you ask her to do, and we were very fortunate to be able to have her for two years."
Middle Tennessee led 16-15 after the first quarter. Florida State rebounded and built a nine-point lead, 29-20, with 2:28 remaining in the fist half, but the Blue Raiders charged back. Edwards capped a 6-0 Blue Raider run with an offensive rebound and putback to pull the Blue Raiders to within 30-27 at the half.
It remained a nip-and-tuck game until the final seconds of the third quarter when it turned in Florida State's favor for good.
Courtesy MTSU Athletics. All Rights Reserved.