Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders are riding a seven-game winning streak and are undefeated in conference as they return home to Murfreesboro for a game against the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles.
Before the winning streak however, MT was on the wrong end of games with Virginia Commonwealth and Georgia State in which the Blue Raiders fought hard but fell short. When they opened conference play against UAB, MT returned to form with a 60-49 win over the Blazers and they haven’t looked back since. The streak includes a hard-fought 80-77 decision at Rice and a dominant 91-76 win over rival Western Kentucky. Head coach Kermit Davis believes that his team’s mindset coming out of the school’s break has been key for their success.
“These guys never flinched, it’s sign of a good team,” Coach Davis said of his team’s mentality. “You watch tape, you don’t like what you see and you change it.”
One player that has made crucial strides this year is freshman point guard Tyrik Dixon. Dixon came to MT as a highly-regarded point guard. While effectively dishing the ball to his teammates, he failed to scratch the scoring column in his first three games. Heading into the team’s conference opener, Dixon was only averaging 3.6 points a game, something he contributes to not being in the gym when he should’ve been.
“When school started, I would shy away from the gym because I would make excuses,” Dixon said. “I’ve really been getting back in the gym. It’s been helping me with my confidence knowing that my shot is going to fall.”
While he only scored two points in the opener against the Blazers, Dixon’s confidence began growing on the court.
His best game of the season came at an opportune time, as the Blue Raiders welcomed rival Western Kentucky Hilltoppers into Murphy Center for the “100 Miles of Hate” showdown. Dixon played the best minutes of his career as he scored 17 points and made all five of his three-point attempts to help lead the team to victory.
In league play, Dixon is averaging 7.8 points a game. While that may not seem too significant, it’s given the Blue Raiders a reliable fourth scoring option behind JaCorey Williams, Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts.
Dixon’s success is also very similar to Potts’ success from his freshman year when it took him part of the season to adjust to the college game. When conference play started, Potts became the most reliable shooter for the Blue Raiders, scoring a then-career high 28 points against Marshall in one of MT’s most pivotal games. Coach Davis also sees the similarity and believes that it’s simply because both Potts and Dixon wanted to get better.
“Different players…but they’re both young guys that are going to be really good players,” Davis said of his point guard. “The biggest thing is that he wants to be coached. He doesn’t flinch as any kind of constructive criticism. For young [players] that do that as talented as he is, he’ll be fine.”
Dixon believes that if the team stays focused, there’s no reason for them not to finish the season as strong as they hope.
“We just have to keep our edge,” Dixon said. “If we keep practice the way it’s been going, then we should be good.”
The Blue Raiders take on the Golden Eagles tonight in Murphy Center with tip-off set for 6 p.m.