MURFREESBORO – The Blue Raiders had a chance to earn a share of first place in the late Conference-USA race Sunday night in front of 7,822 fans in Murphy Center .
That chance turned into a missed opportunity as UAB (22-5, 12-2 C-USA) picked up a crucial 77-67 victory over Middle Tennessee (18-8, 10-4 C-USA) to retain its pole position in the C-USA standings.
Sunday’s loss against UAB marks the fifth-straight defeat that the Blue Raiders have suffered against the Blazers, including the second time this season.
The Blue Raiders kept it close in the first half, earning their first lead with 4:46 left in the opening frame.
Ultimately, poor rebounding and interior defense by MTSU led to a 23-7 run by the Blazers between the end of the first half and the early stages of the second half.
UAB outrebounded the Blue Raiders by a 32-20 margin, along with scoring 32 of its 77 points inside the paint.
“We didn’t supply much toughness tonight,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said. “Give UAB all the credit. They beat us, really, from the jump. They beat us in 50-50 balls and outrebounded us.
“We were outclassed today.”
Along with the Blue Raiders’ interior defense suffering occasional lapses, the Blazers were lights out from three-point territory as they converted 58.3 percent (7-of-12) of their three’s.
As a whole, the Blazers knocked down 61.4 percent (27-of-44) of their shots.
UAB guard Dirk Williams dropped a game-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting to pace the Blazers.
Guard Robert Brown put up 15 points, and forward William Lee added 14 points and a game-leading seven rebounds.
“It’s probably one of our worst [efforts] of the year,” MTSU forward Reggie Upshaw said. “We just weren’t playing physical, and we weren’t doing much on the offensive and defensive boards. They were getting whatever they wanted in the paint.”
Offensively, MTSU shot 45.5 percent (25-of-55) in the contest, including 40.9 percent (9-of-22) from three-point range.
MTSU sophomore guard Giddy Potts tied the team-high with 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting from three-point territory.
Sophomore guard Qua Copeland also had 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Upshaw finished with 11 points and a team-high six rebounds, and Darnell Harris added 11 points and a team-high two steals.
The Blazers maintained control during the early stages of the game, taking a 7-2 lead after a Brown jumper found the bottom of the net.
UAB increased its lead to 18-9 with 13:42 left in the first half after Brown knocked down another jump shot.
Back-and-forth scoring eventually led to a slight 26-25 lead for the Blue Raiders after Aldonis Foote converted a free throw.
With 3:24 remaining in the first half, Potts added a pair of free throws to push MTSU to a 28-27 advantage.
It proved to be the last lead the Blue Raiders had.
The Blazers went on an 8-0 run to close out the first half with a 36-28 lead, with more scoring continuing immediately after the halftime break in the form of an 18-10 run to give UAB a 56-38 lead at the 13:02 mark.
MTSU attempted to battle back, but the effort ultimately came up short after several key three-pointers fell for the Blazers.
Next up, the Blue Raiders will host C-USA rival WKU on Feb. 25. Tip off against the Hilltoppers is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at the Murphy Center.