MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders women's basketball team spent most of Thursday grieving the stabbing death of teammate Tina Stewart and agonizing over the decision to play in the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
They reached a unanimous decision just before facing reporters.
Standing together, holding hands for support and with their eyes red from crying, senior guard Anne Marie Lanning announced they would try to win another title and trip to the NCAA tournament.
"We know Tina would want us to go out and play," Lanning said. "We just talked about it, and we all just kind of looked at each other, 'Yeah, that's what we want to do. We want to make sure to collectively decide. Not five saying yes, five saying no. We all just talked about it. We're going to go out there and play for Tina and give it our all."
Stewart, 21, of Memphis, was stabbed to death Wednesday night and her 18-year-old roommate, Shanterrica Madden, has been charged with first-degree murder. The MTSU freshman is being held without bond. Madden's attorney, Joe Brandon, told The Associated Press that his client used Stewart's own knife in self-defense during a fight. He did not say what the altercation was about.
Lanning said the players went from the hospital where Stewart was declared dead to coach Rick Insell's home Wednesday night, spending hours together.
Freshman KeKe Stewart couldn't stop the tears from rolling down her cheeks at the press conference. In a show of unity, the men's team stood behind the women with all the players wearing purple ribbons and stickers reading "20GETHER" in honor of Stewart's jersey No. 20.
The teams then went into the Murphy Center for a vigil.
Stewart's boyfriend, junior KC Anuna, doesn't know yet if he'll go with the men's team to the Sun Belt tournament, but said Stewart was just trying to do the right thing Wednesday night. He wouldn't go into details and athletic director Chris Massaro said the ongoing police investigation limits what they can say about the case.
Murfreesboro Police spokesman Kyle Evans wrote in an email to the AP that possible drug use inside the apartment is part of the overall investigation and police believe first-degree murder is the appropriate charge.
"I cannot discuss the question on the drug use except to say that we do not believe the victim was using drugs," Evans wrote.
Anuna said Madden had done "something" before and Stewart had warned Madden not to do it again, promising to report her to the courtesy officer at their apartment complex close to campus. He said Madden agreed.
"It happened again. She called the courtesy officer. I guess, I guess that's when the roommate got mad," Anuna said.
Middle Tennessee (23-6) is the East's top seed scheduled to play Sunday in Hot Springs, Ark. The Blue Raiders, 14-2 in league play, are trying to earn the automatic berth with the tournament title for a 14th trip to the NCAA tournament. They won last year, but this team is much younger with 11 freshmen and sophomores.
The 5-foot-7 Stewart was a key veteran on this team despite being relegated to the bench after starting in a career-high 14 games this season and had a career-best 15 points on Nov. 28. She averaged 5.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 28 games this season for the Blue Raiders.
Insell said they will meet Friday morning with counselors. The plan is to travel to Arkansas, but he said they have no time scheduled to depart.
Massaro said he has been getting calls from athletic officials at other schools where students have died. He said they haven't decided how to handle the tournament or how to honor Stewart because the decision to play had just been made. But he said the time on the court will be the players' best chance at escaping their loss.
"The pregame meal is going to be hard," Massaro said. "The bus trip where she normally sits on the bus is going to be hard."
Police found Stewart in her apartment stabbed multiple times when they were called about a disturbance. Madden's attorney won a request that she be photographed by police to document her injuries as proof of the fight.
"Miss Stewart, who was an athlete, had Miss Madden down on the ground beating on her," Brandon said. "Miss Madden has an abrasion above her left eye, looks like perhaps a fingernail. She has swelling to both of her eyes. And during the course of the fight, a knife belonging to Miss Stewart that was in Miss Stewart's possession ended up getting used on Miss Stewart."
Brandon said he will file a motion asking that bond be set for Madden. She is scheduled back in Rutherford County General Sessions Court on March 11.
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