TROY, Ala. – The Troy University women's basketball team fell to East Division champion Middle Tennessee State University 80-61 in Sun Belt Conference action at Sartain Hall Thursday night.
"I am really pleased with the effort tonight," Troy head coach Michael Murphy said. "I think for the most part we played hard, I thought the freshmen came in and did a good job under trying circumstances. What can you say about Sophie Kleeman playing 40 minutes against a group like this that is going to come after you and challenge you? I thought Tenia Manuel did all she could do, as well as Jamesha Blake. I was pleased by our effort and looking forward to Saturday."
Donette McNair (New London, Conn./New London HS) paced four players in double figures for Troy (5-21, 2-11 Sun Belt) with 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting from the floor. She was joined in double figures by Tenia Manuel (Leesburg, Fla./Leesburg HS) with 12, while Jamesha Blake (Atlanta, Ga./SW DeKalb HS) added a career-high 12 and DeAngela Sword (Montgomery, Ala./Pensacola JC) with 11 in the loss.
Icelyn Elie led Middle Tennessee (22-5, 13-1 Sun Belt) with a game-high 23 points, while Anne Marie Lanning added 16 and Ebony Rowe 13 in the victory.
The Trojans shot 44.4 (24-for-54) percent from the floor in the loss, 8.3 (1-for-12) percent from beyond the arc and 57.1 (12-for-21) percent from the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Blue Raiders shot 50 (32-for-64) percent from the floor and 47.1 (8-for-17) percent from beyond the arc. They also shot 66.7 (8-for-12) percent from the free throw line in the victory.
"We got some good looks in the beginning," Murphy said. "When you get those looks against a team like this, you have to take advantage of it; because they do. They play exceptionally hard, they are very well-coached and they have depth. They have a lot of interchangeable parts, and when you get a chance to score you have to take advantage of it.
We had some opportunities early, and didn't do a good job on finishing. That would have given us a boost in the first half, as it is we shot almost 45 percent in the first half. We missed some shots early and you just can't do that against anybody, especially against us."
In the second half, the two teams traded baskets as they each scored 35 points in the final 20 minutes of action. After falling behind 77-49, Troy fought their way back into the contest, as they went on a 9-1 run over a span of five minutes in the second half.
At the start of the contest, Middle Tennessee tried to pull away as they jumped ahead 16-6 with 13:32 left to play in the first half. However, back-to-back baskets by the Trojans' DeAngela Sword (Montgomery, Ala./Pensacola JC) trimmed the deficit to 16-10 with 12:16 to play in the opening half.
The Trojans were able to trim the lead to five when McNair converted a lay-up with 10:54 to play in the opening half, trimming the deficit to 19-14. However, Middle Tennessee opened a 16-point lead just five minutes later as they were able to go on a 15-4 run over that span.
The Trojans shot 45.8 (11-for-24) percent from the floor and connected on just 57.1 (4-for-7) percent from the charity stripe. They were unable to convert a three-point shot, as Middle Tennessee connected on 71.4 (5-for-7) percent of their three-point shots in the first half. The Blue Raiders also shot 69.0 (20-for-29) percent from the floor in the opening half.
Sophomore point Sophie Kleeman played 40 minutes for the eighth consecutive game, and has now played 516 out of 520 minutes in Sun Belt Conference play.
"I can't say enough good things about Sophie having to play 40 minutes," Murphy said. "I think Tenia and Jamesha really came through when we needed them to. We had good balance in scoring and we just didn't get what we needed out of our posts. I thought Ross came in and gave us some energy. Middle plays so hard, they are so well-coached. I think they are the class of the league, and they are a program that we respect; respect the way they go about things."
The Trojans return to action this Saturday in their final home game of the season when they face Arkansas State University inside Sartain Hall. The game tips at 5:15 pm, and there will be a special ceremony prior to the tip to honor senior Donette McNair (New London, Conn./New London HS) who will be playing her final home game of her career.
The game can be heard on WTBF-94.7 FM beginning with the pregame show at 5 pm. It will be the final regular season broadcast of the year for Troy women's basketball, as they return to the air in Hot Springs in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on March 5.