Story by Don Harris // Staff Writer | Photo by Jack Ross // Staff Photographer
NASHVILLE — “Maybe we were looked at as a sacrificial lamb,” Blue Raider head coach Stan “Ramrod” Simpson said of Middle Tennessee. “That lamb turned into a raging bull tonight.”
The raging bull—Middle Tennessee State University’s Blue Raiders—snarled, snorted and then stampeded over the Kentucky Wildcats last night and, when the dust had finally settled, MTSU had recorded its biggest upset victory in its history, a 50-44 spine-tingler over the Kentucky Wildcats.
“I’d like to congratulate all of our players on, probably without a doubt, the most tremendous basketball victory that I’ve been a part of in 21 years of coaching and seven years of playing.”
The Blue Raiders used a combination of unbelievably strong rebounding, tenacious defense and patient offense to mark up the six-point thriller and record their first-ever victory in an NCAA Tournament.
Totally out-manned, but never out-classed, Middle held the ‘Cats to their second-worst offensive output of the season, and sent UK high-tailing it home to Lexington with only hopes of “wait till next year.”
“We pride ourselves on good defense, and tonight I didn’t think we could play it that well,” Simpson said. “But, our defense took Kentucky completely out of their game. I didn’t think we could take them that much out of their game.”
The game was tied 30-30 at intermission and faint hopes of an upset loomed in the minds of every MTSU fan watching. If Kentucky didn’t know where “Middle tennis shoe”(as it was called by one Nashville publication) was—they were to quickly find out.
MTSU scored the first two points of the second stanza when senior Chris Harris connected on an 8-foot turnaround jumper. UK tied the score three times at 32, 34 and 38. but could never regain the lead as Middle played a deliberate offense and ran precious time off the clock.
The now 22-7 Raiders edged out a 44-40 lead with 12:29 behind the hot outside shooting of Rick Campbell, who hit eight of 16 shots and had 19 points and the strong inside play of Jerry Beck. From there, however, the game could have gone either way.
The Wildcats committed 12 fouls in the last II minutes and put Middle in the bonus situation with 6:57 to plav. But, the Blue Raiders were able to convert only four of 11 free throws down the stretch, missing the front end of four one-and-ones.
“Our missed free throws at the end has been somewhat of a tendency for us in several ballgames this year,” the third-year head coach said. “You also have to give a lot of credit’, though, that we never lost our poise. We had every opportunity in the world on missed free throws loose our poise especially in a game of this magnitude.
“We had several opportunities late when we presented Kentucky the opportunity to take the momentum. They went down and took the shot with a hand on the shooter and we grabbed the glass. That prevented the Kentucky team from taking the momentum from us.”
Kentucky, which normally averages 51.6 percent from the field, shot a horrible 37.5 percent on 21 of 56 shots (seven of 23 in the second half). UK actually had one more filed goal than MTSU but the Raiders went to the charity stripe 18 times and made 10, but the Cats stepped to the line only twice and both of those were less than two minutes into the game.
As a team, Middle committed only seven fouls the entire game, only two of which came in the second half.
“They [Middle Tennessee] played hard,” Kentucky head coach Toe B. Hall said, “they controlled the boards, played good defense. They were much more into the game mentally than we were and they deserve to win. ‘
“We went with our shooters. We just didn’t hit the basket. We just couldn’t seem to find it.”
Out of 29 games played this season, the Blue Raiders have only been out-rebounded twice. Last night they pounded the glass and pulled 36 rebounds to the muchtaller Kentucky’s 27.
“It’s amazing. It continues to amaze me, through 29 basketball games that a basketball team as physically ;. small as we are, are able to rebound folks that are much bigger.
Beck and Harris led the way on the glass pulling down t: 10 and nine rebounds, respectively. Rick Campbell 1 grabbed seven and “Buck” Hailey pulled six.
Simpson had hopes that the team would not let the circus-like atmosphere surrounding the game play a substantial role. But, just as he feared, Kentucky burst out of the gates red hot and MTSU was stone cold. UK opened up a quick 8-point lead after MTSU committed five turnovers on their first five trips down the floor. Simpson called a time out to try and settle Middle down.
“We didn’t realize where the game was being played,” the Raider mentor said. “We just called time out to settle things down.”
Senior “Buck” Hailey then rejected a Derrick Hord jump shot and it seemed to set Hailey’s and Hord’s tempos and wake up MTSU.
HAILEY preceeded to reject four shots in the first stanza, one against 6-11 Melvin Turpin.
“I had this whole thing plotted,” Hailey said. “I didn’t care if I goal tended a shot, I wanted to block him [Turpin] one time, just to let him know that Chris had more help. I feel like that block kind of did it.”
Turpin finished with just eight points on four of nine filed goals, sitting out almost half of the game because Hall said he wasn’t going to the boards enough.
Hord missed all nine of his shots from the field in the first half and finished hitting just two of 16. He has been Kentucky’s leading scorer averaging 16.7 points per game.
Ironically, the Wildcats have four players who average in double-figure scoring. But last night, not one member of the Kentucky team marked up more than eight points.
Campbell and Beck captured scoring honors pouring in 19 points and 14 points, respectively. The Raiders hit 44.4 percent from the field on 20 of 45 shots.
The win spoiled the entire state of Kentucky’s and CBS’s hopes of a possible second-round matchup of the ‘Cats and the Loiisville Cardinals. Instead, CBS and the rest of the nation may have to wait another 23 years (that’s how long it has been since the two teams met) before the two teams may square off.
The nation will now get to the the long-awaited matchup of Middle Tennessee and the ‘Cards.
“We just want to make the Kentucky sweep,” Hailey said. The senior was referring to MTSU’s last five games which have been victories over Kentucky schools: Morehead, Eastern, Murray. Western, and Kentucky.
The “Kentucky sweep” will be a sixth game against a Kentucky school when MTSU meets Lousiville Saturday in second round action. Tip-off is set for 1:15 p.m. and will be televised on CBS.
Louisville is a team very much like MTSU in quickness and team ability.
Simpson feels like it’s going to take a whole different type of ballgame to beat the ‘Cards. ‘
“Louisville has the best basketball talent on one basketball team in the United States,” Simpson said. “They have four or five of the best players in the country. In some ways they are a lot similar to the way we play. They go with a lot of quickness.”
“It will be interesting to see if we have the opportunity to play someone from another state,” he quipped.
This story appeared in the March 12, 1982 print edition of Sidelines. To view the full issue online, click here.