Photo by Meagan White // Sidelines Archive
The MTSU men’s basketball team’s backcourt has been banged-up all season, forcing different players to step up and run the offense.
With the losses of guards Jacob Ivory (concussions) and Ed Simpson (ankle), Middle Tennessee has searched for a viable floor leader.
Giddy Potts, Ivory, Qua Copeland and Xavier Habersham have all had their turn running the point guard spot for the Blue Raiders, but one player’s offensive and defensive production has been an emotional spark that has propelled the team into the NCAA Tournament.
“I ran the point behind Tweety [Knight] when he was here and behind Bruce [Massey Jr.], so that was good experience for me,” MTSU senior guard JaQawn Raymond said.
After Potts was sidelined with a concussion towards the end of the regular season, Raymond was tasked with switching from a shooting guard position to stepping up and playing the point guard position.
“I knew he would be serviceable there,” MTSU head coach Kermit Davis said. “We signed him as a two-guy that could play some point. But for him to be a 30-minutes-a-game guy, that shows you how much time he’s put into it. He’s smart and understands what we do, and his size really helps him.”
Even though Raymond is just now getting his opportunity to run the point guard position, it is a role he has always been prepared to accept.
“Coach [Davis] told me last year I’d be playing some point,” Raymond explained. “It’s a hard transition, but I’ve come to really love running the point and running the team because that shows my leadership and my ability to run a team on defense and offense.”
Raymond has been a senior leader all season, but his performance and attitude on the court has gotten his teammates energized for post-season play.
His offensive production has received a massive boost, and it helped guide the Blue Raiders to a Conference USA championship last Saturday against Old Dominion University. Over his past five games, Raymond has averaged 10.6 points per game, and provided a defensive presence that was vacated after Simpson’s injury.
“I took it as a personal challenge because when Ed [Simpson] went out, he was our best defender. So I took it as a challenge to stop [the opponent’s] best guard,” Raymond said.
Raymond’s defensive effort has brought an energy level to the team, which was evident in the C-USA championship game.
“For me, me showing energy helps me guard because it keeps me from thinking about being tired and it just keeps me focused,” Raymond said.
Raymond was slated to guard C-USA’s leading scorer in ODU’s Trey Freeman, who scored 42 points in the semifinal round against Western Kentucky University. He was able to hold Freeman to just 17 points on 7-for-23 shooting.
His outstanding defensive outing aided the Blue Raiders in securing their first conference championship since 1989, and Raymond is confident in the way his team is preparing for No. 2 seed Michigan State on Friday.
“We’re headed into Friday as if we’re going to win the game, and move on to Sunday,” Raymond stated. “They may have us as a 15-seed, but like Coach [Davis] said, we’re 9-1 in tournaments [this year]. None of my teammates are scared, and we’re going to show up to play.”
MTSU will head to St. Louis as a No. 15 seed to square off against Denzel Valentine and the No. 2 seed Michigan State Spartans Friday at 1:45 p.m. CT from the Scottrade Center.
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.