Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders rode a six-game winning streak into their matchup with the Vanderbilt Commodores on Thursday night. The game was close in the early going but MT used a dominant second half to defeat the Commodores 71-48 at the Murphy Center.
The MTSU defense was the story of the first half, as they held the Commodore offense to 32.1 percent shooting. Vanderbilt used the three-point shot to stay in the game early by making three of their first four, but cooled off the rest of the half by hitting just 1-of-8 from long distance the rest of the way.
Giddy Potts provided a spark early for the Blue Raiders, as he led all scorers in the first half with 15 points on the strength of three shots from behind the arc. JaCorey Williams was quiet scoring-wise in the first half, making both of his shots for four points. He did however attack the boards, leading both teams with six rebounds through 20 minutes of play.
The pivotal moment in the first half came in the last four minutes, as the Blue Raider offense pushed the lead to as much as ten, after Potts’ third three of the half. The Commodores got a bucket at the buzzer to cut into the lead but MTSU trotted into the locker room with confidence and an with an eight-point lead.
The Blue Raiders continued their dominant play in the second half as Reggie Upshaw led the way out of the break. Upshaw scored eight quick points and before Vanderbilt could blink, they were down by 20 early in the second half.
MTSU showed off their athleticism in the second half as Upshaw tossed a lob to Potts who finished it with a rim-rattling alley-oop that got rousing cheers from the crowd of over 9,000. Vanderbilt cut the lead down to 15 but could never get consistent stops or scores and MTSU ran away with a 71-48 win, their second win over an SEC opponent in a little over a week.
Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew was not surprised at all by the energy or talent displayed by the Blue Raiders, who ran their record to 9-1 on the season.
“Middle Tennessee is a very good team. We knew coming in, we’d probably have to play our best game of the year to be able to beat them here on their own floor,” Drew said. “We started out well and made a few shots. But after that, they really had momentum and it really continued for them.”
The Commodores were coming off of a game where they made a school-record 19 threes in a win over High Point. Vanderbilt would struggle in this one, only making five of their 19 attempts. Matthew Fisher-Davis led the way for Vandy with 13 points but couldn’t score consistently, going just 4-of-13 from the floor. Jeff Roberson and Luke Kornet each struggled mightily as well, combining for 19 points on 7-25 shooting for the Commodores, who shot 32.1 percent as a team.
Giddy Potts played his best game of the season for the Blue Raiders, scoring 27 points and grabbing nine boards on 4-of-9 shooting from three-point range. JaCorey Williams added his second double-double of the year, scoring 13 points and reeling in 10 rebounds. Reggie Upshaw rounded out the Blue Raiders in double figures with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis recognized that this was one of the better efforts by the Blue Raiders, as they settled into the game after falling behind early and took over after halftime.
“For stretches in the second half, I thought we were really good because we were so unselfish in the break,” Davis said. “The ball really really moved and we contested a lot of shots at the rim. We’ve got a lot of room to improve on.”
Upshaw said earlier in the week that rebounding would be key in this game. The Blue Raiders controlled the boards 39-33, despite being the smaller team. The senior credited that stat to the efforts of his team as a whole.
“We just had to be determined to attack the boards. Once you see JaCorey getting rebounds, myself and Giddy getting rebounds, it’s like the whole team wants to get a part of the action,” Upshaw said. “Then you see Tyrik getting loose balls and long rebounds and things like that.”
Even with all the excitement built around Thursday’s matchup, Davis insisted that this was just a normal game for his squad.
“We’ve never talked about [being ranked] at all and we weren’t trying to make a statement,” Davis said. “We were just trying to play well in front of a great crowd and we hope those people come back to watch us.”
The Blue Raiders will have a days days of practice and rest before traveling to Nashville to play the Belmont Bruins at the Curb Event Center on December 14th. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
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