How did Middle Tennessee upset Michigan State?

Perrin Buford in game 1 of the 2016 NCAA tournament. MTSU upset Michigan with an unexpected 90-81 victory. (MTSU Sidelines/ Sarah Grace Taylor)

Photo by Sarah Grace Taylor // Managing Editor

Only seven No. 15 seeds have ever defeated a No. 2 seed in NCAA history.

That number didn’t matter to Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis and the Blue Raiders, as MTSU shocked the tournament field with a 90-81 victory over the two-seeded Michigan State Spartans.

But, how did the Blue Raiders become the eighth team to shatter millions of brackets?

Perhaps the biggest reason why, is MTSU’s three-point barrage against the Spartans.

The Blue Raiders shot 57.9 percent (11-of-19) from three-point territory, setting multiple tournament records for themselves.

Following Friday’s performance from deep, MTSU broke its previous records in 3-pointers made (nine), 3-pointers attempted (18) and three-point percentage (50 percent).

All of those records were, coincidentally, set when the Blue Raiders upset Florida State in 1989, their last NCAA tournament win.

“I’ll be honest with you, in my wildest dreams I didn’t think [MTSU] would hit some of the shots they hit,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “We didn’t guard them real good. But, man, they made some shots. Boy, really take my hat off to them on some of the shots they made.”

Another key number is the rebounding numbers and points in the paint.

Michigan State brought more size into the matchup, but the Blue Raiders managed to keep the margin close, only being out rebounded by a 30-28 margin.

MTSU outscored the Spartans 38-36 inside the paint.

Defensively, MTSU managed to slow down the Spartans’ elite guard play, holding Bryn Forbes and Denzel Valentine to a collective 27 points on 9-of-25 shooting.

Davis threw multiple defensive looks at MSU, preventing a quick start by the dangerous guard combo.

“I mean, that was a really frustrating game because they were switching up the defenses,” MSU guard Valentine said. “[MTSU] was probably the only team all year that went from a 1-3-1 to a 2-3 to man. And I was frustrated.”

“Our identity is about changing defenses,” Davis added. “After watching film, they run so much good offensive action against man-to-man that we were going to do a lot of switching.”

Collectively, MTSU’s starting five had a full workload against the Spartans.

The Blue Raiders’ starters accounted for 81 of their 90 points.

Giddy Potts played 39 minutes and scored 19 points, and Reggie Upshaw had 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting.

Perrin Buford and Darnell Harris each had 15 points, and JaQawn Raymond added 11.

“I mean, we came into the game thinking we were going to win,” Buford said. “We put in a lot of hard work. The coaches did a good job doing the scouting, and we put it right into the game.”

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To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.

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