Kerry Hammonds’ playing days ended a few years ago as a member of the Blue Raiders.
His last year dawning a blue and white jersey was the 2013-14 season, when Middle Tennessee’s season came to a close after a loss to Tulsa in the C-USA tournament.
Prior to that season, Hammonds was a member of the 2013 MTSU tournament team, which fell to St. Mary’s during a play-in game.
Hammonds, who is now a graduate assistant with the Blue Raiders, has started to share his tournament experience with the current MTSU roster in the hopes of a different outcome.
“They just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing,” Hammonds said. “Just because we’re in the NCAA tournament doesn’t mean we have to go out and do something different or spectacular. We have to do the same things we’ve been doing, which is what got us here.”
Hammonds’ advice to the Blue Raiders?
“When we went that year, I feel like we didn’t have as much experience in close games that this current team does,” Hammonds explained. “They’ve been having to grind it out and win a lot of close games throughout the season. That year with us, none of our games were really close. So, I don’t think we were really prepared for a tournament as much as this team is.”
During Hammonds’ run with the 2012-13 tournament team, MTSU posted a 28-6 record (19-1 Sun Belt) en route to their tournament appearance.
Excluding the six losses, the Blue Raiders had an average winning margin of 17.7 points, and had 19 wins by 10 or more points.
Fast forward to MTSU’s current 2015-16 campaign, the Blue Raiders have only nine wins by 10 or more points, with an average winning margin of 9.2 points.
“It’s key,” Hammonds said about the importance of playing close games. “Once you get down to those last five minutes of basketball games in the season and tournament, anything can happen. So, if you’re used to winning in that atmosphere it definitely helps.”
MTSU’s gritty play has also led to it being the second-ranked scoring defense in C-USA, allowing only 69.4 points per game in conference games.
“This team is definitely a grind-it-out team,” Hammonds said. “You can see that from our last game [against ODU]. We were able to win a game in the fifties and it was a grind-it-out game the whole time. They’re used to these tough, close games.”
Headed into Friday’s match-up against two-seeded Michigan State, the Blue Raiders expect themselves to keep their gritty style of play.
“With a talented team like Michigan State, we’re going to have to play hard and play to our identity,” Hammonds said. “Toughness, rebounding and defending. We just have to go out there and have our guys make plays, because we’ll have to play the best that we’ve played all year.”
To contact Sports Editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Connor_Grott.