BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Juniors Perrin Buford and DJ Jones carried Middle Tennessee (19-16) in its run to the Conference USA Championship Game Saturday.
The two juniors were named to the all-tournament team after the title game. Buford led the way for the Blue Raiders, scoring 13.8 points per game. Jones averaged 10.8 points per game, making nine 3-pointers in the four games MTSU played in Birmingham.
Buford and Jones, who were former teammates at Southwest Tennessee before transferring to MTSU this season, made the deep run possible.
Buford, an Alabama native, had been coming on as of late for the Blue Raiders, scoring double-digit points in seven-straight games and eight of his last nine, including a career-high 29 against UAB on Feb. 28.
He continued his strong play at the C-USA Championship this week. The junior forward averaged 13.8 points. Buford was largely responsible for MTSU making it through its first two games.
He scored 14 and 17, respectively, in the first two games of the tournament, leading the Blue Raiders to two huge wins. Buford’s 17-point output in the quarterfinals was vital in MTSU’s upset victory over third-seeded Old Dominion.
Jones was an unlikely hero for MTSU. The 5-foot-10, 160-pound guard averaged just 4.5 points and 10.2 minutes per game coming into the tournament.
The junior guard scored 10 and six, respectively, in the first two days, but his presence was not really felt until the Blue Raiders’ semifinal game against second-seeded UTEP.
The Blue Raiders trailed at the half 25-20, but Jones led a second-half comeback that propelled MTSU to another upset victory, and a place in the championship game.
Jones scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half. A 34.3 percent shooter from 3-point range, Jones nailed 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, including back-to-back 3-pointers that put MTSU up 37-35, a lead it held the rest of the way.
Despite the Blue Raiders’ loss in Saturday’s final, Buford and Jones still managed double figures, scoring 11 and ten, respectively. Jones made an impressive 3-pointer in the second half in which he was fouled on. He nailed the free throw that followed, completing a four-point play that brought MTSU within single digits.
Buford and Jones now hope to continue their season, along with the rest of the Blue Raiders, in one of the postseason tournaments. While MTSU failed in its chance to get an NCAA Tournament bid, it still has an opportunity to be invited to the NIT, CBI or CIT. More information on that will be known in the next few days.
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