Photo courtesy of Brent Beerends / MT Communications
In the midst of a full court press, Giddy Potts caught the ball on-the-run and fired the ball up court to Reggie Upshaw, who laid the ball in to secure the team’s first conference win of the year.
Middle Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 C-USA) battled UTEP (10-6, 2-1 C-USA) on Thursday evening in the team’s conference home opener, and the Blue Raiders were able to outlast the Miners 78-72 behind a pair of fantastic performances from Darnell Harris and Perrin Buford.
The Blue Raiders have been without Potts for the last four games, due to an academic issue, but the sophomore returned to action on Thursday and provide a spark the team needed.
“More than anything, it’s his [Potts] rebounding,” Head Coach Kermit Davis said what he missed most during Potts’ absence. “He’s second on our team in rebounding, and I think we missed that on the road down the stretch. He didn’t have a great game offensively, but he’s just another guy that can have a presence that other people have to guard.”
Potts finished the game with seven points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes of action Thursday.
Middle Tennessee came out firing, hitting their first four three-point shots to take an early 14-5 lead.
“I thought in the first half we had a really good rhythm… We had different guys make three’s. We spread it out from Ed [Simpson] to Xavier [Habersham] to Darnell [Harris] to Perrin [Buford],” Davis said about the team’s hot start. “In the second half, we got a little tight and didn’t have as much confidence and movement.”
The Blue Raiders would cool off a bit toward the end of the first half, finishing the half shooting 41.2% from the field, but an astounding 53.8% from beyond the arc.
The second half was a back-and-forth game, as the largest lead for either side was only five points through the first 11 minutes of second half action. Both teams traded buckets and fouls, but the Blue Raiders were able to keep their foot on the gas pedal, despite some questionable calls and no-calls from the referees.
“We could never just get them squared up. I thought their inside guys played good. I thought UTEP played good tonight. We played extremely hard, and it was a hard-fought game,” Davis said.
The Murphy Center found life once again after Jaqawn Raymond went coast-to-coast to give the Blue Raiders a nine-point lead with just over seven minutes left in the game. The crowd played a pivotal role down the stretch for Middle Tennessee, giving them the energy they needed to finish off a strong UTEP team.
Darnell Harris led the way for the Blue Raiders with 21 points, and Perrin Buford finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Reggie Upshaw recorded his fifth double-double of the season, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
“We didn’t shoot a great percentage, but those three, Perrin got a little nicked up with his wrist, and I thought Darnell played through fatigue,” Davis said post-game. “Reggie didn’t get off to a great start, but he really responded in the second half. He made some really good hustle plays.”
The Blue Raiders ended the game with 17 offensive rebounds, but struggled with turnovers, finishing Thursday’s game with 15. The team ended the game shooting 42% from the field, and 36% from beyond the arc. Middle Tennessee’s bench outscored UTEP 19-to-8, which played a key role heading down the stretch.
The Blue Raiders will continue conference play with another key home game against UTSA (3-13, 1-2) on Saturday afternoon. Tipoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey, email email@example.com.