MURFREESBORO – Middle Tennessee (19-16) will host Kent State (21-11) in Murphy Center in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Thursday night.
This will be the first-ever meeting between the two programs. Both programs faced both Akron and Texas-El Paso this season. MTSU defeated Akron in its only regular-season matchup, while Kent State dropped two of three games to its MAC rival.
MTSU made it to the final of the Conference USA Championship last week, losing the title game and a bid in the NCAA Tournament, to Alabama-Birmingham 73-60. The Blue Raiders are 19-16 overall this season, and they went 9-9 in conference play.
“I really think our team has made a lot of progress,” said MTSU Head Coach Kermit Davis.
Kent State, a member of the Mid-American Conference, suffered a 53-51 loss to Akron in the MAC Tournament quarterfinals. The Golden Flashes are 21-11 this season, and they managed a 12-6 conference record, finishing tied for first in the regular season. Kent State is 94th in RPI, while MTSU is 140th.
“They remind me of the best teams in our league (C-USA), athletically,” Davis said. “After five minutes, our fans will see how good of a team they are.”
Thursday’s contest could turn into a defensive battle. Neither team is great offensively, ranking near the bottom in scoring offense in their respective conferences. Both, however, rank second in scoring defense in their conferences. The Blue Raiders allow 62.3 points per game, while the Golden Flashes allow 62.7.
Shooting from three-point range was key to MTSU’s deep run in the C-USA Championship, shooting 38.5 percent from beyond the arc in the tournament. They may be hard to come by in this one though. Kent State only allowed its opponents to shoot 31.8 percent from long distance on the season.
While MTSU had just one double-digit scorer in the regular season, sophomore Reggie Upshaw (10.1 points per game), KSU bolstered four: Jimmy Hall (15.4), Devareaux Manley (13.3), Kris Brewer (11.0) and Derek Jackson (10.2). Hall shot a blistering 52.7 percent from the field on the season, the 47th-best mark in the nation.
Hall was named All-MAC First Team. Manley earned All-MAC Second Team honors, and Brewer was an honorable mention selection and MAC Sixth Man of the Year. The Blue Raiders will need their stout defense to stop these scorers as much as possible if they hope to win Thursday.
Upshaw may have been MTSU’s only double-digit scorer this season, but juniors Perrin Buford and DJ Jones led the charge in the C-USA Championship. Buford averaged 13.8 points per game in the tournament, and Jones, who only averaged 4.5 points per game during the regular season, scored 10.8 points per game during the tournament. The two will need to continue to step up if the Blue Raiders want to advance further in the CIT.
Middle Tennessee will host Kent State in Murphy Center Thursday. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. CST.
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