MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- A year after opening the season with a road loss to an in-state foe, the Lady Vols were determined to not let that same predicament happen again. After the first 20 minutes at the Murphy Center on Friday night, the fourth-ranked Lady Vols were once again in a perilous situation.
But a furious charge to begin the second half made sure Holly Warlick's team didn't have a repeat of last season's opener as Tennessee played stout defense while getting its shooting in gear in the final 20 minutes for a 67-57 victory over Middle Tennessee.
The Orange & White were serenaded with "It's Great To Be A Tennessee Vol" as the time expired with the Lady Vols moving to 1-0.Tennessee trailed 34-22 at halftime before reeling off the first 14 points of the second half to surge into the lead at 36-34 with 14 minutes left in regulation.The game stayed within one possession for the next five minutes before Tennessee was able to secure a comfortable advantage.Junior Isabelle Harison led Tennessee with 13 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Junior guard Ariel Massengale scored 12 points and handed out five assists.
Freshman Mercedes Russell tallied 11 points in her debut game with the Lady Vols. In her return to the court after missing most of last season with an injury, Andraya Carter added 10 points including a pair of clutch 3-pointers.Despite a tough shooting night, Cierra Burdick grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds as Tennessee out rebounded the Blue Raiders, 46-44.UT's top two scorers from a year ago: Meighan Simmons (9 points) and Bashara Graves (4 points) were limited to a total of 13 points. Last season, the pair combined to average 30 points per contest.MT was led by Ebony Rowe, who tallied 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. Shanice Cason also had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Blue Raiders (0-1).Russell's jumper with 13:58 left in the second half gave Tennessee a 36-34 lead, the team's first edge since 10-9 midway in the first half.
After Middle Tennessee briefly regained the lead, the Lady Vols took the lead for good on a jumper by Harrison with 9:39 left in regulation. The lead moved to six on a 3-pointer by Carter with 8:18 on the clock. The lead steadily moved to as large as 10. A pair of free throws by Massengale gave UT a 57-47 lead with 4:12 left in the game.
MT continued to pressure in the final minute, cutting its deficit to five points on a pair of free throws by Cason with 25 seconds left. The Lady Vols' defense in the second half was outstanding, MT was limited to just 6-of-29 from the floor for 20.7 percent.Tennessee shot 36.1 for the game including 46.4 in the second half as the Lady Vols outscored Middle, 45-23 in the final 20 minutes.Last season, Tennessee suffered a stunning 80-71 loss at Chattanooga in the first game of Warlick's tenure as UT's head coach.
The Lady Vols rebounded to win seven games in a row and finished the season 27-8, advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight.Fast forward to 2013-14, and Tennessee will take its 1-0 record on the road to #12 North Carolina to play the Tar Heels on Monday, Nov. 11 at 9 p.m., as part of ESPN's 24-Hour Marathon of Basketball to kickoff the new season.