CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Middle Tennessee joined elite company with its pulsating 62-55 win against Charlotte here Thursday.
With the triumph, the Lady Raiders achieved the program's 900th all-time win and became just the 32nd Division I women's basketball team (out of 351) to accumulate as many victories.
"This is a big deal because as the number of teams to accomplish it suggests, winning 900-plus games in college basketball is not easy," Lady Raider Head Coach Rick Insell said. "Outstanding players and coaches have contributed to this achievement throughout the history of the program. This is something we all celebrate, coaches and players, past and present, as well as our loyal Blue Raider fans.
"I'm sure every Lady Raider coach through the years will tell you that these 900 wins are all team wins. Tonight was no different. It took a tremendous team effort to deliver this win."
And the Lady Raiders (18-5, 9-1) delivered in a big way to pull away late and secure the crucial road win and remain within one game of the top spot in a tight C-USA race.
Alex Johnson put forth a yeoman effort, playing all 40 minutes and pouring in 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting. The senior forward also dished out five assists and collected a pair of steals against a physical, tough Charlotte defense.
While Johnson dominated inside, senior guard A'Queen Hayes was exceptional on the perimeter. Hayes was a stat-sheet stuffer with 17 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals. The hard-nosed defender scored 12 of her 17 after halftime with the game hanging in the balance.
And then there was freshman point guard Taylor Sutton, who produced another stellar outing. Sutton finished with 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field. She scored six of her 14 in the fourth quarter.
"Charlotte is a very well-coached team and their players really compete," Insell said. "It took great effort and execution to get this win. It also took some guts and a will to win because Charlotte also put forth a strong effort. We had some young ladies hit some big-time shots."
All of them mattered, but clutch shots in the fourth quarter were pivotal.
Charlotte, who was led by Jade Phillips' 26 points and nine rebounds, had pulled to within 48-47 with 5:32 remaining, but Anna Jones followed with a clutch 3-pointer from the dead corner to push the advantage back to four. Jordan Majors hit a free throw and Hayes came up with a huge steal and finished with a layup to push the lead to 54-47 with 2:48 remaining.
After Phillips knocked down a long 3-pointer to keep Charlotte's hopes alive, Sutton and Johnson dashed those optimisms with consecutive treys to seal the program's 900th all-time victory.
Middle Tennessee started slow from the field, shooting just 27 percent (3-of-11) in the first quarter, but the Lady Raiders heated up afterwards. They shot 41 percent (9-of-22) from 3-point range.
Jordan Majors turned in another solid performance with five points and a game-high seven rebounds, while Anna Jones finished with five points and six caroms.
The Lady Raiders will face Old Dominion Saturday. Tipoff in Norfolk, Va., is 3 PM (CT).