Photo by: MT Athletics//Brent Beerends
The Middle Tennessee Men’s Basketball (4-2) team took on Virginia Commonwealth University (5-2) on Wednesday night in their home opener after playing their first five games on the road. The Blue Raiders’ costly last-minute turnover would be the determining factor in the 62-56 loss to VCU.
The Blue Raiders came out firing in front of an electric crowd at the Murphy Center. At the start of Wednesday’s game, Middle Tennessee found many open looks but had trouble connecting. Sophomore guard Giddy Potts seemed to struggle the most, finishing 1-for-9 from the field and 0-for-5 from behind the arc.
“His [Potts] first shot was a wide open look off of an offensive rebound,” VCU Head Coach Will Wade said about the guard. “It went three quarters of the way down and out, and I think if that thing went in, it could have been a much different night.”
The Blue Raiders finally found an offensive rhythm against VCU’s man-to-man defensive looks by finding Darnell Harris and Reggie Upshaw in the paint. They battled back against a tough defensive effort from the Rams to take a 19-14 lead mid-way through the first half.
Middle Tennessee looked to be firing on all cylinders until the Rams changed their defensive look and started playing a 2-3 zone. The Blue Raiders struggled finding open looks against the zone at the end of the first half, which led to struggling guard play.
“It was horrendous at times,” Head Coach Kermit Davis said about their guard play. “Our guards, Ed [Simpson], Giddy [Potts], Quay [Quavius Copeland], and Jaqawn [Raymond] were 3-for-25 [from the field].”
Despite the poor guard play and being out rebounded 22-20 by VCU, the Blue Raiders were only down 30-28 at the end of the first half. The key in the second half would be finding ways to break down the zone defense.
The second half started with a 7-2 run put on by the Blue Raiders that was started with a great finish at the rim by Copeland. Senior Darnell Harris drilled a wide-open three to put Middle Tennessee up 35-32.
“We did a good job to start the second half [attacking the zone],” Davis said. “You got to get the ball right to the high post area.”
Harris finished with a season-high 17 points, and had three blocks in Wednesday’s game.
Upshaw electrified the crowd at the Glass House with an alley-oop from Jaqawn Raymond to increase Middle Tennessee’s lead back to three. Less than a minute later, Upshaw stole a pass, drove baseline slamming it home with a two-handed jam, leaving the crowd at the Murphy Center on their feet. VCU was forced to take a timeout to regain their composure. At that point, it looked like MTSU had the game in control.
The Blue Raiders then went cold, not making a shot in almost three minutes. VCU took full advantage of the Blue Raiders shooting 2-for-6 over a six minute span, as they would regain the lead with four minutes left in the game.
Even though the Blue Raiders amassed 17 turnovers, the Blue Raiders had the ball with 41 seconds left down just three points, . Upshaw got open in the high post, in the middle of the 2-3 zone, and caught a pass with a chance to tie the game. Upshaw pivoted trying to find an open man. In a last ditch effort Upshaw was caught in the air trying to feed the ball to a teammate in the corner, and threw the ball right to a VCU defender that would ultimately cost the Blue Raiders the game.
“And, like, Reggie. We’re down three at the end, and we get the ball to our best player in the high post with a live dribble. I don’t know what he was doing, he just kinda jumped up in the air. I know he feels bad about it, but we have to go finish those plays,” Davis said.
Upshaw finished with 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting, and grabbed a game-high 18 rebounds.
The Blue Raiders are now 4-2 on the season after the loss, and will look to rebound this weekend. Middle Tennessee stays home to take on South Alabama (3-4) on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Murphy Center.
To contact Interim Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email firstname.lastname@example.org.