Story by Tyler Lamb // Staff Writer
No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee took on No. 3 seed Marshall on Friday night in a conference semifinal matchup, with the Blue Raiders pulling out a 99-90 victory to advance to their second-straight C-USA Championship game.
MTSU got out to a rocky start, shooting a mere 4-of-12 from the floor, before ending 31-of-53 from the field.
The speed of Marshall’s play was a factor early on, as the Thundering Herd jumped out to an early lead.
MTSU coach Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders adjusted with their 1-3-1 defensive set that seemed to riddle the Thundering Herd’s offense.
The first four possessions of the new defensive look caused four Marshall turnovers.
After slowing down the pace of the game, MTSU’s offense settled in, going on a 13-0 run during a four-minute stretch, eventually ending the half on a 23-9 run.
Following the run, the Blue Raiders went into the halftime break with a 39-29 lead.
Marshall decided to pressure full-court in hopes of making up the deficit quickly.
The Thundering Herd’s pressure was no match for the Blue Raiders, as they made them pay by scoring on layups and free throws.
Coming into the matchup, Marshall was shooting 70 percent from the free throw line as a team, but was only able to connect on 9-of-19 from the stripe (47 percent), while MTSU shot 31-of-41 (75 percent).
Because of the numerous layups in the second half, the Blue Raiders were able to score 25 more points than their season average (72 points per game) en route to their highest point total of the season.
MTSU shot 58 percent on the night and had five players score in double-digits.
Senior guard JaQawn Raymond tied a career high with 20 points. He also accounted for four rebounds and two assists.
Perrin Buford finished the night with 20 points and eight rebounds, while also chipping in five assists.
Forward Reggie Upshaw continued his good tournament play, nearly coming away with a double-double with 17 points and nine rebounds.
Blue Raider guard Giddy Potts didn’t score his first basket until 9:05 in the first half. The leading three-point shooter in the conference didn’t account for a single three in the matchup with Marshall, yet he came away with 13 points, four rebounds and two assists.
Senior forward Darnell Harris came out hot from beyond the arc, eventually cooling off in the second half. He ended the night with 12 points.
While the bench only accounted for three points last game, they contributed 19 in tonight’s win behind the play of Xavier Habersham and Aldonis Foote, with each coming away with nine points.
MTSU will play No. 5 seed Old Dominion in the C-USA Championship game Saturday afternoon. Tip off is at 1:30 p.m CT.
The Blue Raiders fell last season to UAB in the C-USA title game, 73-60.
A win Saturday would be MTSU’s first conference championship in C-USA, and end a three-year drought from the NCAA Tournament.
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