MURFREESBORO — Rick Insell’s last image of Tina Stewart was a promising one.
With his senior point guard absent, Insell, the Middle Tennessee State women’s basketball coach, called upon Stewart, a junior guard from Memphis, to lead the Blue Raiders in practice on Wednesday.
She did — like she never had before.
“It was probably the best practice Tina Stewart has ever had at Middle Tennessee,” Insell said. “I said to Tina this is your chance to lead this basketball team and show this team what you can do and where they will gravitate to your team. After I challenged her again, she became the best player on the floor, defensively and offensively. She did some things that we didn’t know she could do as a coaching staff. ... [It was] the best practice she has ever had.”
It also turned out to be her last.
Stewart, 21, was fatally stabbed in her off-campus apartment Wednesday night. Her roommate, 18-year-old Shanterrica Madden, was charged with first-degree murder. Madden, a freshman at MTSU, is being held without bond.
On Thursday night, the men’s and women’s basketball team walked into a press conference united, holding hands and choking back tears. A vigil to remember Stewart was held later in the school’s basketball arena, the Murphy Center, and approximately 2,500 people attended.
MTSU players, coaches and administrators wore purple ribbons and “20GETHER” stickers, playing off Stewart’s jersey number. Posters of Stewart and her signature grin were everywhere.
“Her smile lit up a room,” senior guard Anne Marie Lanning said. “She is greatly going to be missed.”
Murfreesboro police said the death stemmed from an argument. The investigation is ongoing and police spokesman Kyle Evans told the Associated Press that “we do not believe the victim was using drugs.”
According to Stewart’s boyfriend, KC Anuna, Wednesday’s argument wasn’t the first between Stewart and Madden.
Anuna, who is a redshirt junior guard on the MTSU men’s basketball team and a McGavock High grad, said Stewart warned Madden she would call the courtesy officer at the front desk of the apartment complex.
“It was just a simple warning that Tina gave her roommate, just ‘Don’t do this again,’” Anuna said. “It happened again and she called the courtesy officer and I guess that is when the roommate got mad. ... [Stewart] was doing the right thing. She wasn’t trying to be involved in anything. She was just trying to make sure the whole situation was clear. I feel like the person that did this to her, they just got mad and they took it out of hand, way out of hand. She was just trying to do the right thing.”
The MTSU women’s basketball team will leave Friday, as scheduled, for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark. The Blue Raiders, who are the defending tournament champs, don’t play until Sunday. Insell said he let his team decide whether to play in the tournament or not.
“We know Tina would want us to go out there and play,” Lanning said. “We wanted to make sure it was a collective decision, not just five of us saying yes and five of us saying no. We all just talked about it and we are going to go out there, give it our all and play for Tina.”
Stewart averaged 5.5 points in 28 games this season for the Blue Raiders. She started 14 of the first 15 games before losing her spot to freshman Jordyn Luffman.
Still, Insell said Stewart didn’t complain and continued to make huge contributions, right down to her last game. Coming off the bench against Western Kentucky in the regular-season finale, she provided a spark, scoring seven points and hitting a huge 3-pointer to preserve a close win.
“She was a team player,” Insell said. “She never whimpered. She never said anything. She just came to work every day and when she had a chance to go in she gave us everything she got.”