There was no shortage of emotion Sunday when the Middle Tennessee State women’s basketball team took the floor for the first time since the fatal stabbing of one of their players.
Tina Stewart’s absence decidedly shortened the Lady Raiders’ bench, though, which was a factor as the Sun Belt Conference regular season champions fell 77-62  to Arkansas State in a Sun Belt women’s tournament quarterfinal contest at Hot Springs, Ark.
“Everyone knows what we have been through and emotionally it has been tough,” senior guard Anne Marie Lanning said. “We just went out there and played for T [Stewart] and gave it our all. I just know that she would be proud of us.”
Stewart, a junior guard, died of wounds she sustained Wednesday night when she was stabbed — allegedly by her roommate — during an altercation. The team met with coach Rick Insell and school officials the following day and decided to participate in the conference tournament.
By virtue of the fact that it was the top seed, MTSU (23-7), the tournament champion each of the past two years, earned a bye out of Saturday’s opening round.
Against fourth-seeded Arkansas State (18-13), all five starters played at least 36 minutes and only one reserve, KeKe Stewart, played more than one minute. The bench scoring was 18-0 in favor of ASU.
The Lady Raiders never led, were tied just three times — the last at 42-42 after Jordyn Luffman’s 3-pointer with 17:10 to play — and were outscored 22-9 over the final 10:31.
“Our first substitution has been [Stewart],” Insell said. “We work everything around that. We worked on it a little bit. I am not much on going to the bench.
“… We played hard and the kids played hard. I am proud of my team. There will be some good things happen to this bunch.”
Ebony Rowe finished with team-highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds. Lanning and Icelyn Elie each added 14 points.
Arkansas State shot a season-high 54 percent from the field (27-for-50) and got a game-high 21 points from Shania Hurst.
“I think there were a lot of emotions in the game, highs to lows from getting rewarded before the game to the recognition of Tina before the game,” Rowe, the Sun Belt freshman of the year, said. “I think we did our best to keep our emotions in check and execute our game plan the best that we would.
“I am just proud, so proud of my teammates. I know that I would not want to be on any other team in the nation. I am just so proud of us and we didn’t fail because we showed up [Sunday]. We showed up and showed what MTSU is all about.”