It wasn’t pretty, but Middle Tennessee utilized a strong second half, outscoring the Ohio Valley University Fighting Scots (0-1) 39-25 after halftime to seal a 77-60 victory.
Ohio Valley University, a Div. II school in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, never led throughout the contest, but still managed to challenge Middle Tennessee (1-0) in the first half, trailing by three at halftime.
MTSU head coach Kermit Davis was 9-2 in season-opening contests entering into tonight’s matchup, and at times it looked like his third loss was quickly approaching.
“Obviously that’s not what our programs been about for a long period of time,” Davis said. “Pretty disappointed in the overall toughness, leadership, everything. We’re just not a good basketball team right now and that is real, real obvious.”
Middle Tennessee’s ball movement proved to be stagnant in the first half, turning the ball over 11 times and tallying only four assisted baskets.
The Blue Raiders also failed to register a single outside bucket in the first stanza, with all 38 first-half points coming off of free throws and points in the paint.
MTSU attempted only three mid-range jumpers in the first half, missing each of them. The Blue Raiders also went 0-of-11 from three-point range, the first time MTSU has failed to convert a three-pointer in a half since Feb. 1, 2014 against Old Dominion.
“Everyone’s identity in college basketball has to be paint touches,” Davis said. “From paint touches, that’s when three’s go in, and we didn’t have a lot of paint touches that led to extra passes and three’s. And that is something that we have got to do.”
Sophomore Reggie Upshaw showed urgency when the Fighting Scots threatened to upset Middle Tennessee. Upshaw finished with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting and added seven rebounds.
Upshaw also finished with a game-high three blocks and tied the team-high of two steals.
“I sat down and talked with Coach (Davis) two days ago, and after our exhibition loss we set some ground rules and expectations of what he thought I should do,” Upshaw said. “One thing he told me was to be more aggressive. The whole time, coming into this game, that was all I was worried about was getting myself to the free throw line and finishing through contact.”
Marcus Tarrance was the only other Blue Raider to score in double digits, posting 11 points on 2-of-9 shooting. Jaqawn Raymond added nine points and nine rebounds to nearly record his first career double-double.
Middle Tennessee shot 43.6 percent (24-of-55) from the field and got to the free-throw line 43 times, but only converted 25 of them (58.1 percent).
“I think we’re a good free throw shooting team, but I think we’re just in a place right now where we don’t have a lot of toughness and now we’ve lost a little confidence,” Davis said. “I’m glad we got to the line 43 times, but we’ve got to be a better free throw shooting team.”
Defensively, the Blue Raiders struggled to stop Ohio Valley’s dribble-drive penetration, with 16 of the Fighting Scots’ 35 first-half points coming on points in the paint that were created by OVU’s inside drive.
MTSU did contain OVU’s perimeter offense, holding them to 18.8 percent (3-of-16) from three-point range. The Blue Raiders forced 24 turnovers, leading to 25 points off turnovers.
Middle Tennessee got out to a fast start, taking a quick 26-13 lead in the first nine minutes of play. OVU would respond with a 12-6 run in the final four minutes of the first half to trim the Blue Raiders’ halftime advantage to 38-35.
Ohio Valley would cut the lead to three at the 17:18 mark in the second, which would prove to be the closest the Fighting Scots would get to a lead.
The Blue Raiders would utilize a 12-3 run off of three-pointers from freshman JaQuel Richmond and junior DJ Jones and a dunk from Jaqawn Raymond to give the Blue Raiders a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the contest.
MTSU will host Murray State Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. CT in a rematch of last year’s game. The Blue Raiders defeated Murray State 80-62 last season in Murray, Kentucky.
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