Photo by Sarah Taylor // Managing Editor
Coming into this season, Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis had the ability to play as many as 11 players each game due to the ample amount of depth in the backcourt.
This luxury disappeared when injuries began to pile up for the Blue Raiders.
Over the course of the season, three different guards have been sidelined with injuries, causing Davis to experiment with different pairings and lineups.
“We were playing 11 guys at one point, but it’s gone down with the loss of Ed [Simpson] and Jacob [Ivory],” Davis said.
MTSU guard Giddy Potts missed a few games earlier this season with an academic issue, and he suffered a concussion that kept him out of the final games of the regular season, before returning in the Conference USA tournament.
Point guard Jacob Ivory began the season on the bench with concussion issues, and his recurring concussion problems eventually sidelined him for a second consecutive season.
Ed Simpson, arguably the team’s best defender, fractured his ankle in a practice during the Conference USA tournament, which now leaves the Blue Raiders with four guards off the bench going into Friday’s game against Michigan State.
Two of those four guards, Chase Miller and Stephen Strachan, have not played a single minute this season.
“At the guard position, it’s shallow. But, we’ve had other players step up,” junior forward Reggie Upshaw said. “Xavier [Habersham] has stepped up a lot and made some big three’s, and he’s helped us out on the boards a lot. Qua [Copeland] comes in and gives us good minutes. We’re missing two of our most important guards, but we’ve had other people step up.”
Upshaw has been one of the unquestioned leaders for MTSU all season and now sees himself guiding the younger players to step up when it matters most.
“I know with myself, Perrin [Buford] and Darnell [Harris],” Upshaw said, “we’ve taken it upon ourselves to try to help Giddy out and try to help the younger guards out as much as we can.”.
Davis has been vocal about how impressed he is with his team, especially with players who have stepped up to fill voids left by numerous injuries.
“[Xavier Habersham] has played a lot better,” Davis explained. “JaQawn Raymond has really had a good tournament and we needed that. We’ve played Aldonis Foote more, and even sometimes we’ve played Reggie at the three [position] and play Reggie, Aldonis and Darnell together. So those things we’ve had to do to mix and match, I’m proud of those guys.”
Raymond has been a key contributor for the Blue Raiders this season, but his recent string of performances has ignited his teammates.
He has averaged 10.6 points per game over his last five games, and his perimeter defense has created momentum going into the NCAA tournament.
“I knew [Raymond] would be serviceable [at point guard],” Davis said. “We signed him as a two guy that could play some point, but just to be your 30-minute-a-game guy, that just shows you how much time he puts into it.”
Raymond will be an important facet of MTSU’s plan to upset the Spartans, but it may be hard pressed to duplicate his 39-minute outing against Old Dominion in the C-USA title game.
The Blue Raiders will have at least an eight-man rotation on Friday to try to slow down MSU’s Denzel Valentine and company.
“Eight for sure,” Davis said. “The five that we start and we bring in Qua [Copeland] at the point, bring in [Xavier Habersham] to play the perimeter, Aldonis [Foote], then Karl [Gamble] is kind of your knight.
“You knock on wood you stay out of foul trouble, every NCAA tournament team hopes that,” he continued. “I could see Xavier [Habersham], because of his length, doing more. I see Aldonis Foote [getting more minutes] because of his physicalness, and he’s the kind of guy that can guard one through four.”
The Blue Raiders will have one more day of preparation before taking on No. 2 seed Michigan State on Friday at 1:45 p.m. CT in St. Louis.
Follow Caleb Luketic on Twitter for more MTSU basketball coverage.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.